High prices of rice and other important food items, including soybean oil and loose palm oil, have severely constrained the purchasing power for a large section of the vulnerable population above the poverty line in Bangladesh, said the FAO.
"The food security situation for a large number of people is of concern, despite the government's expansion of social protection," said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its brief on Bangladesh on Thursday.
The UN agency said prices of rice in the Dhaka market increased steadily throughout 2020, reflecting tight market availabilities, exacerbated by an upsurge in domestic demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It said overall prices of rice were more than 35 per cent above their year-earlier values and at their highest level since October 2017.
Monthly prices data of Dhaka city compiled by the FAO showed that prices of coarse rice soared 38 per cent year-on-year to Tk 44.4 per kilogramme in January this year, the highest since September 2017.
Medium grains rose 39 per cent year-on-year to Tk 50.81 each kg, data showed.
The UN agency said prices of mostly imported wheat flour decreased in the first part of 2020, reflecting adequate market supplies from the bumper output harvested in April and above-average imports.
Starting from August, prices have been generally increasing, supported by trends in the international markets. Overall, prices in January 2021 were slightly above their year-earlier levels, it said.
The FAO said losses in income and remittances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and its containment measures led to an increase in poverty.
Citing an official estimate, the agency said 29.5 per cent of the total population was poor as of June 2020, up from 20.5 per cent in June 2019.
The FAO said Bangladesh hosts about 8,60,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, most of whom were residing in the Cox's Bazar district.
The agency report published in November 2020 said living conditions of the refugees and host communities have deteriorated compared to that in the pre-Covid-19 pandemic period.
The assessment shows that the percentage of refugee households with a poor consumption score jumped to 15 per cent from 5 per cent in the pre-Covid-19 period, while for the host communities the score increased from 3 to 8 per cent, it added.
The FAO said output from two rice crops -- Boro and Aus – had been good because of generally favourable weather conditions in 2020.
However, production of Aman crop, harvested by the end of last year, was estimated to be at its lowest level in three years, due to flash floods between July and August, said the UN organisation.
Aman rice crop accounts for about 40 per cent of the annual output.
Overall, the 2020 aggregate paddy production is estimated to be at 5.48 crore tonnes, up marginally from 5.47 crore tonnes the previous year, said the FAO.
Citing planting of Boro rice crop, which accounts for 55 per cent of the annual output, the UN body said favourable weather conditions since the beginning of November 2020, strong domestic prices and ample supplies of irrigation water, above-average June to October monsoon rains and supports for planting activities benefitted crop germination.
The FAO said wheat crops were growing under favourable weather conditions. The area planted is estimated to be close to the five-year average, while the increased use of high-yielding seed varieties has given a boost to yield prospects, it said.