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Bangladesh to import more rice despite bumper crop

BANGLADESH: Despite a bumper crop, Bangladesh plans to increase rice imports in the coming year so as to help make the essential foodstuff affordable to millions of poor people, a senior food official said on Wednesday.

Rice is the main staple for Bangladesh's more than 140 million people, nearly half of whom live on less than $1 a day.

"Efforts to import more rice in the coming year will be strengthened and widened to boost emergency food stocks," said Shawkat Ali, adviser (minister) for food to the Bangladesh's army-backed interim government.

The government hopes to import an extra one million tonnes of rice on top of the 2 million tonnes that have been imported so far this fiscal year. The impoverished South Asian country this week stopped Open Market Sales (OMS) of rice after harvesting nearly 75 percent of the boro variety of rice, expecting a bumper crop.

The boro harvest is expected to yield 17.5 million tonnes, against 15 million last year when the total rice crop totalled 27 million tonnes.

This will cover more than half Bangladesh's need for rice in fiscal 2008/09, but many of the landless and jobless would still suffer because of continued high prices. In the month-long OMS, authorities sold 1 kg of rice at 25 taka ($0.36) - against 40 taka ($0.58) in retail shops - so that the poor could afford it.

But at the close of OMS, queues are lengthening at hundreds of shops run across the country by troops, where rice sells also at a cut-rate 25 taka a kg.

"Here I am again, having no other alternative to get some cheap rice," said housewife Saleha Begum, at a troop-run shop in Dhaka's Mirpur area, on Wednesday.

Her rickshaw-puller husband earns around 200 taka ($3) a day, which Saleha says is too inadequate to feed a family of seven. "My children are hungry, we cannot offer them more than one meal a day," she said.

Bangladesh blames its food crunch on a global supply shortage and a series of calamities at home last year that destroyed around 3 million tonnes of foodgrains, mainly rice.

Hopes that a bumper boro rice crop would help to reduce prices have also faded amid reports that panic buying and hoarding could keep a lot of rice out of market. Farmers are reluctant to sell rice to the authorities at the 28 taka per kg fixed rate which is far below the market price, analysts and traders said, adding that farmers also wanted to keep enough for their own needs.

The government said it would buy 1.5 million tonnes of rice from growers to build an emergency stock for the coming fiscal year, as efforts to import rice in recent months failed due to export restriction worldwide, especially by India.

Floods and cyclones occur regularly in Bangladesh, causing devastation and destroying huge quantities of foodgrains.

Dhaka, Wednesday, Reuters

 

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