32,000 MT of poor quality rice imported
The first two consignments of rice imported for replenishing the government's low food stock have been rejected over quality concern.
However, the Singapore-based Olam International, which brought the grains from Thailand, has kept two ships with over 32,000 tonnes of parboiled rice at the outer anchorage of Chittagong port for almost a month with intent to sell those to private buyers in Bangladesh.
Food department sources told The Daily Star that they had to reject the two shipments brought through international tender process at a time when the public granaries require immediate replenishment for running various food-aided programmes like Tk 10-a-kg rice for ultra poor and the Open Market Sale (OMS).
The government is already one month behind the schedule in the Tk 10-a-kg rice programme. It deferred twice the launch of the scheme under which some 50 lakh ultra poor were supposed to get 4.5 lakh tonnes of rice in September, October and November.
In such a situation, the food ministry plans to meet on October 2 for a stocktaking of the food reserve situation and the already-floated tenders for purchase of two lakh tonnes of parboiled rice from local private importers who have been allowed to use polybags instead of jute sacks.
The government has so far imported a little over two lakh tonnes of mostly white rice from Vietnam under a government-to-government (G2G) arrangement since its rice stock hit an all-time low at 1.5 lakh tonnes at the beginning of fiscal 2017-18.
Though Dhaka struck a separate G2G deal with Cambodia as well, the rice is yet to reach Bangladesh ports. Besides, a deal with Myanmar is yet to be approved by the cabinet body concerned.
Apart from the G2G arrangements, the Directorate General of Food also started processing imports of three to four lakh tonnes of parboiled rice through international tenders.
In early August, Singapore's Olam won the first of the bids under which it would supply the government with parboiled rice for $419.51 a tonne.
Olam dispatched over 32,000 tonnes of the stipulated 50,000 in the first two consignments in two ships at the beginning of September.
A food department team inspected the grains and declined to receive those, saying the rice brought from Thailand is too reddish and not up to the mark.
The setback comes at a time when the government badly requires to fast-track import of 15-20 lakh tonnes of food to boost its reserve as the country lost at least 20 lakh tonnes of Boro crop due to Haor flashfloods and fungal attacks.
The stock that the government could build so far is mostly of white rice. But most people have shown little or no interest in buying the rice variety channelled through OMS at a subsidised rate as they prefer parboiled rice.
Meanwhile, private traders have imported nearly seven lakh tonnes of rice over the last three months, giving a little stabilising effect on volatile domestic rice prices.
Qaid Siraj, proprietor of the Olam International's local agent Zarah Grains told this newspaper that the Thai rice looks a little reddish because of its varietal feature, but it's not substandard.
Since the government declined to take it, Olam kept the ships at the outer anchorage and was trying to sell it to private parties in Chittagong, said Qaid.
If no deal can be struck here, Olam would move the ships elsewhere, most likely to South Africa and sell the rice there, he added.
Ali Akbar, who heads the Seven Seas Shipping in Bangladesh, told this newspaper that two of their ships that Olam hired for shipping the rice to Bangladesh have been kept at the outer anchorage of Chittagong port for nearly a month.
"Yes, they [Olam] are paying for the demurrage. As Bangladesh's food department gave them no-objection certificate for selling the rice to private buyers, they are trying to do so," he said.