Foodgrain imports have surged 95 percent in the first half of the current fiscal year from a year ago, driven by increased prices of rice and wheat flour in local markets against reduced global prices.
Rice and wheat imports rose to 18.65 lakh tonnes between July 1 and January 9 from 9.57 lakh tonnes in the same period a year ago, according to food ministry data.
Total foodgrain imports till now have already exceeded imports for the whole of last fiscal year. High domestic rice production had helped reduce import dependence the previous fiscal year.
In fiscal 2012-13, foodgrain imports were 18.87 lakh tonnes, including 28,930 tonnes of rice.
"There was a glut of rice in the domestic market last year. But that is not the case this year. This is one of the main reasons behind increased rice imports," said a senior official of the food ministry, seeking anonymity.
The food ministry official said rice and wheat prices are currently lower in the international market than a year ago, while local rice and wheat prices have risen in recent months.
More than two-months of political unrest, a marginal increase in last year's boro output and slow release of paddy by farmers on speculation of further price hikes have led to the increase in local prices.
"The price difference between domestic and international markets has encouraged the private sector to import as they get a margin," he said.
From July to January 9 this year, rice imports surged to 2 lakh tonnes from only 15,800 tonnes in the same time a year ago.
Wheat imports rose 77 percent to 16.65 lakh tonnes in six months since July.
Sheikh Wazed Ali, owner of Lakhya Flour Industry at Narayanganj, attributed the increase in wheat imports to rising rice prices and a low carry-over stock of wheat at the beginning of the fiscal year.
The government's distribution of wheat flour at subsidised rates through open market sales is another reason behind an increase in imports, he said.
Sarwar Alam, a rice importer, said most rice imports came from India as prices are lower there.
In the fortnight ending January 10, the wholesale price of rice was $338 a tonne in Kolkata, while it was $434 in Dhaka, according to Fortnightly Foodgrain Outlook by the Bangladesh food ministry.
Nirod Boron Saha, president of an association of rice and paddy commission agents at Naogaon, linked increased prices of rice to supply shortfall resulting from less than expected production in the last aman and boro seasons.
"It appears that scented rice was cultivated on more lands in the immediate aman crop season. It is likely to cause a shortfall in coarse and parboiled rice production," he said.
Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics is yet to finalise the rice output in the recently completed aman season, which accounts for 38 percent of annual rice production. However, production of rice in the aus season rose 8 percent to 23.26 lakh tonnes in the last harvest from 21.58 lakh tonnes in the previous harvest, according to provisional estimates of BBS.