Among the essential commodities, coarse rice price registered the highest rise in the last one year, according to the state-run Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) which keeps track of prices of daily necessities.
Prices of coarse rice, mostly consumed by the poor and people of lower-middle income groups, went up 42 percent since June last year.
Even though the private sector imported one lakh tonne of rice during that time, paying 25 percent import duty, the price of a kg of coarse rice was Tk 45-46 this week. In the first week of June 2016, it was Tk 30-34 a kg.
Though prices of finer and medium quality rice varieties registered 9 to 20 percent rise during the same period, price hike of coarse rice was worrying the government.
To add to its worries, public granaries now only have 2.5 lakh tonnes of rice, a six-year low yearend stock.
Over 10 lakh tonnes of boro crop were lost this year to early flooding in seven haor districts and fungi (rice blast) attack in 19 districts.
These forced the government to renew a 2011 memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Vietnam for 3 lakh tonnes of emergency rice imports. Three international tenders have also been floated during the last fortnight for importing 1.5 lakh tonnes more.
A day after the finance minister placed 2017-18 fiscal year's budget in parliament, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said rice prices went up due to sudden floods in the haor areas and that prices would come down quickly as the government took steps to import rice.
However, the government's rather late move to stabilise the rice market would yield no immediate results with local millers reluctant to sell to the food department for a non-lucrative price offered by the government. The government's rice imports are unlikely to reach ports before the end of July.
To make matters worse, market sources told The Daily Star that prices of rice in the international market have been rising for the last two weeks.
Sources at the food ministry and the office of the Director General of Food said the government floated three international tenders in quick succession in May and in the first week of June seeking to buy 1 lakh tonnes of parboiled (Shiddo) and another 50,000 tonnes of white rice (Atap).
Dubai-based Sukhbir Agro Energy quoted the lowest price, $427.85 a tonne, for 50,000 tonnes of parboiled rice (first tender) and Singapore-based Agrocorp International quoted the lowest price, $406.48 a tonne, for 50,000 tonnes of white rice (second tender).
The bids for the third tender, for 50,000 tonnes of parboiled rice, are scheduled to be opened on June 11, food ministry sources said.
As it stands now with 25 percent levies on imported rice, the government would have to pay Tk 44 for each kg of imported rice, Tk 10 more than what it offers farmers and millers.
Though the government had plans of buying 13 lakh tonnes of rice from the domestic market this boro season, its offer of Tk 34 a kg fell far short of farmers' and traders' desires. They are now selling at Tk 42-44 a kg in the domestic market.
A month has gone by since official boro procurement began and the government could only sign contracts with millers for 1.6 lakh tonnes of rice. There is no guarantee that the government would actually get that 1.6 lakh tonne of rice.
Food Minister Quamrul Islam acknowledged in parliament on Monday that the government's rice stock was low. He said the process to import six lakh tonnes of rice was underway.
Meanwhile, a recent report of the Vietnam Economic Times stated that Vietnam would sell up to 10 lakh tonnes of rice to Bangladesh every year until 2022, under an extended MoU first signed in 2011.
Bangladesh did not need to import rice since 2011-12 financial year but after renewing the MoU, it immediately wanted to purchase 2.5 to 3 lakh tonnes of rice and a total of 5 lakh tonnes of rice by the end of 2017, according to the Vietnam News Agency.
The government's Food Planning and Monitoring Unit's (FPMU) May 31 report stated that rice prices went up in the international market over the last fortnight. It recorded that prices of Indian, Thai and Vietnamese rice increased up to 8 percent.
Market sources said the Philippines was in the international market to buy rice along with flood-ravaged Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which caused the price hike.