Bangladesh's wheat imports are expected to hit a record high this fiscal year on the back of increasing domestic demand and stable international price.
As of March 6, a total of 42.14 lakh tonnes of wheat has been brought in to the country, with the private sector accounting for over 95 percent of the imports, according to data from the food ministry.
In fiscal 2015-16, 43.66 lakh tonnes of wheat was imported. Importers credited the rise in domestic consumption to the lower price of wheat than rice, change in eating habits, and expansion of bakeries and restaurants.
Growing export-oriented food processing sector as well as the stable price in the international market also fuelled the surge in imports, they said.
The export of wheat processed food items like biscuits, noodles and so on to neighbouring countries like the Seven Sisters in India and Myanmar is on the rise, said Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Low-income groups in both urban and rural areas are increasingly choosing wheat processed food items like flour over rice for its cheaper price, said Abul Bashar Chowdhury, chairman of Chittagong-based wheat importer BSM Group.
Last week at the Khatunganj wholesale market, the wholesale price of low-quality wheat stood at Tk 17-18 per kilogramme and that of good quality wheat at Tk 28-30.
At the various kitchen markets in Chittagong city, retailers were found selling coarse rice at Tk 34 to Tk 36 per kg.
The import of lower quality wheat from Russia, Ukraine, Argentina and Australia -- which account for 80 percent of the total import -- soared in recent years, Chowdhury said.
But the import of good quality wheat, which comes from Canada and the US, has stayed the same.
The price of wheat in the international market has remained stable for the last few months, which also encouraged importers, he added.