Foodgrain imports have accelerated 56 percent, to 28.95 lakh tonnes in the first 10 months of this fiscal year from that of the previous year with private importers taking advantage of declining prices in the global market.
Rice imports jumped 13 times to 3.75 lakh tonnes, with private importers going on a buying spree between July and May, data from the food ministry show.
Rice imports by the private sector rose as the price is lower in India than in Bangladesh, said Abul Bashar Chowdhury, chairman of BSM Group, a Chittagong-based foodgrain importer.
Coarse rice price stood at $400 a tonne in West Bengal, whereas it is $420 a tonne in Dhaka, the Food Planning and Monitoring Unit said in its latest report.
Between July and May, wheat imports rose to 25.20 lakh tonnes from 18.22 lakh tonnes of the same period in the previous year. At least 66 percent of the import was done by private traders.
US wheat price fell 10.8 percent to $251 a tonne in the 15 days up to May 30. In Dhaka, it was $328 a tonne at wholesale.
As the private sector has been doing a lot of the importing, the government has set itself the target of importing 12.1 lakh tonnes of foodgrain, mostly wheat, in the next fiscal year, which is pretty much the same as this year's.
However, it has raised the rice import target by 33 percent based on the estimated target of the outgoing fiscal year and lowered the wheat import target by 5.2 percent.
Bangladesh is unlikely to face any volatile situation in the next fiscal year as local grain production has been satisfactory and global prices have not been increasing, a food ministry official said.
According to the proposed budget, the target of importing 2 lakh tonnes of rice in the next fiscal year was fixed based on the revised estimated target of 1.5 lakh tonnes this year.
However, a food ministry official said the government had not imported any rice this year and did not plan to do so in the two remaining months of the year.
He said it could import the 2 lakh tonnes of rice in the next fiscal if there was an emergency requirement.
BSM Group Chairman Abul Bashar Chowdhury said the private sector had not imported any rice in last two years but in the last four to five months, rice was imported through the land ports.
He said rice production in India this year was good and the prices were lower.
Zaid Bakht, research director of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said food stocks in Bangladesh had dropped this fiscal year over the previous year and many had speculated that rice prices would go up, prompting a move toward import.
According to a report of the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh yesterday, the price of coarse rice was Tk 34 a kg, which is 12.93 percent more than that of the same day last year.
On May 29, the total foodgrain stock was 10.08 lakh tonnes, which was 11 lakh tonnes on April 30, said a food ministry report.
A high official of the food ministry said food production was good in Bangladesh this year and with low prices in the global market there was no worry over food security.
In the next fiscal year, the government has set a target of distributing 27.4 lakh tonnes of rice and wheat, which was only 7 percent higher than that of the revised estimate of this year.
The official said they had achieved 75 percent, 25.58 lakh tonnes, of their target foodgrain distribution through public channels this year.