Bangladesh could import garlic from Malaysia and Egypt as an alternative to China, where the outbreak of a lethal, pneumonia-like virus named coronavirus has led to a breakdown in the supply chain of the spice.
The country is also considering India, Pakistan and Indonesia as an alternative sources for another key cooking ingredient, ginger, according to a Bangladesh Tariff Commission (BTC) report recently obtained from the commerce ministry.
This recommendation comes at a time when the disruption in the supply chain for spices imported from China has led to increased prices for garlic and ginger in the domestic market for the past month.
The price for garlic, an essential cooking ingredient, increased by 44 per cent to Tk 180-210 per kilogram in Dhaka as of yesterday, according to market price data compiled by the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.
Retail prices for ginger shot up 8 per cent from what it was a month ago to Tk 100-180 per kilogram.
The BTC report, which was recently submitted to the commerce ministry, said that Bangladesh is heavily dependent on Chinese imports for both spices to meet the country's annual requirements.
The country consumes six lakh tonnes of garlic and three lakh tonnes of ginger per year.
The import data for garlic and ginger revealed that China accounts for 96 per cent of the 52,500 tonnes of garlic imported during the July-December period of the fiscal year.
The remainder was imported from India and Myanmar.
Private importers brought 69,500 tonnes of ginger to the country during the first-half of fiscal 2019-20.
China supplied 41 per cent of that total, while India provided 28 per cent and Myanmar 21 per cent. The remaining 3 per cent came from other parts of the world, the BTC said.
The report also stated that China is the biggest exporter of both garlic and ginger.
China accounts for 38 per cent of the world's total supply of ginger and 67 per cent of the total supply of garlic. India and Germany are two other major exporters of ginger.
In the case of garlic, Spain and Argentina are the second and third biggest suppliers respectively, said the report.
However, since Malaysia and Egypt, two other major garlic producers, are nearest to Bangladesh geographically compared with Spain and Argentina, the country could consider importing the ingredient from there as an alternative to China.
Bangladesh could also import ginger from India, Vietnam and Pakistan on similar grounds, the BTC added.
An estimate on the production of garlic and ginger from the agriculture ministry shows that Bangladesh's import dependence for ginger is 42 per cent and for garlic it is 13 per cent.
One of the causes of the shortage in local supply is that a portion of the products always get damaged while in storage, the report said.
In the current fiscal year, farmers cultivated 8 per cent more garlic to 85,700 hectares than fiscal 2018-19, according to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
About 6.10 lakh tonnes of garlic was produced in fiscal 2018-19, down 11 per cent from the previous year.
Domestic production of ginger declined 10 per cent year to 15,300 hectares from the previous fiscal year.
Farmers harvested 1.90 lakh tonnes of ginger during fiscal 2018-19, down 15 per cent from the previous period, according to DAE estimates.