Rice imports nosedived in the past two months and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicted total import would dip to 6 lakh tonnes in 2018-19 due to higher production in boro season and reinstatement of import tariff.
The private and public sectors imported 38.92 lakh tonnes of rice in July-June of 2017-18, the highest in the last three decades, according to food ministry data.
Since July of the current fiscal year, 38,060 tonnes of rice grains were imported.
The US agency linked the slumping rice import to the imposition of a 28 percent import duty in July to protect growers.
“Due to bumper boro rice production, the paddy price at the farm gate fell, causing significant financial loss for farmers,” said the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service in its Bangladesh Grain and Feed Update, released in the middle of this month.
“Understanding the situation, the government of Bangladesh took a quick initiative to protect farmers from lower market prices of paddy,” it said. However, the agency said, “The high rate of import duty may deter imports and increase paddy prices indirectly, but it also may affect the price in the retail market and transfer the burden to consumers.”
The US agency has kept its forecast on Bangladesh's wheat import at 65 lakh tonnes for 2018-19. The country imported 58.80 lakh tonnes of wheat in fiscal 2017-18, up 3.35 percent from the previous year.
It, however, raised the corn import forecast to 20 lakh tonnes on strong industrial consumption demand. The USDA estimated corn imports by Bangladesh at 16 lakh tonnes in 2017-18.
The agency has revised down the total rice production to 3.44 crore tonnes in May-April of the marketing year 2018-19 on slightly lower boro acreage because of downpours in harvesting season and lower aus harvesting area due to expected flooding. The USDA in its report said less than 1 percent of the boro rice crop was damaged by higher water level due to heavy rainfall in the present harvesting season.
“Farmers in some locations claimed production losses due to the effects of rice blast. The disease reportedly resulted from temperature extremes, prolonged dew, adverse weather, lower quality seed, and late planting,” it added.
The report said aus rice production is progressing on schedule. The overall monsoon rains have been normal thus far and seedling production for planting broadcast aman rice is progressing well under adequate soil moisture conditions.
The USDA kept its forecast on wheat production for July-June period of 2018-19 unchanged at 11.8 lakh tonnes assuming normal weather conditions and marginal yield increase compared to last year.
It cut corn production estimates to 34 lakh tonnes owing to reduced cultivation area of summer corn and early flooding in low land areas as a result of heavy rains.
The USDA said corn was one of the most popular cereal crops in Bangladesh, while on the other hand, rice was treated as a principal crop that farmers feel compelled to produce whether it is profitable or not.
“Farmers prefer producing corn, as it is somewhat resistant to adverse weather, and has high market demand. Increasing demand for industrial use and comparatively higher margins than rice and wheat have increased farmers' interest to produce more corn,” said the report.
The USDA said farmers reduced summer corn (March to July) cultivation area due to a lack of availability of highly competitive land, which is alternatively used for comparatively profitable vegetable crop cultivation.