Food Minister Md Qamrul Islam yesterday said the rice that was imported in the current fiscal year was for 'cattle feed', a claim dismissed by importers.
“There are reports in some newspapers about rice imports, but it has to be made clear that India usually releases its low-quality stock every three years at low prices and the private sector imports them as cattle feed.”
The minister went on to state that the country is self-sufficient in food, with annual rice production coming to nearly 3.5 crore tonnes, enough to meet the year's domestic demand for the staple.
Islam's remarks came at the launch of the National Food Policy Plan of Action and Country Investment Plan (CIP) Monitoring Report 2014 at the capital's Ruposhi Bangla Hotel. The food ministry's Food Planning and Monitoring Unit (FPMU) organised the programme.
Importers, however, vehemently disagreed with the food minister's claims, saying most of the rice imports, which come mainly from India, were for human consumption and not for cattle feed.
Rice imports in the current fiscal year soared nearly 13 times from a year ago to 3.74 lakh tonnes, with the private sector accounting for 3.71 lakh tonnes, according to data from the food ministry. Asked, Md Nurul Islam, who imported nearly 10,000 tonnes of rice, said: “So far, I know no rice was imported as cattle feed, because the import price of rice is too high to be used as cattle feed.”
He said both the fine and medium categories of rice were imported from India. The price of the fine rice miniket stood at $450-$480 each tonne, while swarna, another fine variety, was $370-$400 a tonne.
“So whatever the amount that was imported is being consumed by humans,” he said, adding that he sold imported rice to his clients in Chittagong and Sylhet.
The price of Indian '5 percent parboiled rice' was $405 a tonne, whereas the wholesale rice price in Dhaka in the fortnight ending on June 13 was $429 tonne, according to the Fortnightly Foodgrain Outlook prepared by FPMU.
“We have imported rice for human consumption,” said Abul Bashar Chowdhury, chairman of BSM Group, a Chittagong-based commodity importer.
Chowdhury's firm imported nearly 10,000 tonnes of coarse rice from Myanmar and Pakistan at Tk 29 each kilogram on average.
Meanwhile, at the programme, the food minister said the government will start implementing the Safe Food Act 2013 soon to check adulteration.
“We hope to fully implement the law in two to three years,” he said, citing that his ministry works to frame the rules needed to execute the law.
The Monitoring Report 2014 unveiled yesterday showed that Bangladesh has made strides in reducing the number of underweight and stunted children but the percentage of undernourished is on the rise.
The report also pointed to the slowing agricultural GDP growth and falling public investment in social protection programmes as share of GDP.
However, farm wages has increased. Rice production had been also more stable since fiscal 2007-08, leading to reduction in volatility of its price.
FPMU Director General Naser Farid and National Food Policy Capacity Strengthening Programme Chief Technical Adviser Ciro Fiorilo presented the report.
“We have some good news. Agriculture production is diversifying. Production of crops other than rice increased in some areas more than rice. We have to sustain it,” said Fiorilo.
“Some areas also need attention,” he said, while suggesting intensification of rice production to feed the growing population and food fortification to ensure nutritional security.
He said the country needs to increase rice production by 1.5 percent a year to ensure cereal security. Higher growth of output than the required will free more lands for cultivation of other crops, he said.
Fiorilo also said the right to food as set in the constitution needs renewed attention to ensure food security.