The government will have to maintain a good reserve of food grains to ensure food security for the poor, said the agriculture minister yesterday. “The government needs a good reserve of food grains to manage any volatility in the local market,” said Matia Chowdhury. “The idea of ensuring food security will be successful only when the government will be able to feed the poorest in the remote parts of the country,” she added.
She was speaking at the inaugural ceremony on the “National Conference on Market Volatility, Vulnerability and Food Security: Strategic Choices and Policy Options”, organised by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and UK Department for International Development (DFID) in Dhaka.
She came down on the World Bank as it advised the government not to maintain reserves in excess of 6-7 lakh tonnes. “A country like Bangladesh needs stocks of 10-12 lakh tonnes, as we have to support the poor and run programmes like vulnerable group feeding (VGF).” “The government also has to take precautionary measures against adversities like crop damages,” she added. She also blamed the two former governments for ‘information distortion’, where they showed a higher production of food grains. This created a discrepancy between demand and supply, and ultimately raised food prices.
She said information provided by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and Bangladesh Space Research and Remote Sensing Organisation (SPARRSO) regarding the annual production of food from 2005-06 to 2007-08 did not match.
Matia said satellite photos taken by SPARRSO could not be wrong. She however admitted that the production of rice grew from 2.68 crore tonnes in 2002-03 to 3.52 crore tonnes in 2007-08. SPARRSO is a multi-sectoral research and development organisation under the Ministry of Defence.
The agriculture minister vowed that the government would take measures to provide food grains at lower prices and better value for farmers’ production. Economists suggested that the government try to export rice to African countries, as rice prices in the domestic market have dropped drastically due to surplus stocks. Farmers may incur losses owing to this surplus in supply. “Yes, the government can try it, although it may require standardisation and other procedures,” economist Wahiduddin Mahmud told reporters after the conference at Dhaka Sheraton Hotel. “The rice price in Bangladesh is much lower than in international markets now,” Prof Mahmud said.
Presently, the price of coarse rice in Dhaka is about Tk 20 per kilogram and the government sells rice at Tk 18 through open market sales (OMS). To keep the rice price at a rational level and save farmers from incurring losses, the government should think about exporting rice to the African countries, said Dr Mahabubur Hossain, executive director of Brac.
According to the Food Planning and Monitoring Unit, the government presently has rice stocks of around 12 lakh tonnes and the country is expected to have a bumper Boro production this season. The government will not be able to procure rice in the next Boro season if the stocks are not offloaded now, an official of the food ministry said.
Experts suggested that the government continue the 100-day employment scheme and increases safety net programmes, as there is a large number of people still deprived of food. Cultivating the saline-tolerant rice variety in 10 lakh hectares of land in the coastal areas will further boost rice production, they said.
Food Minister Abdur Razzaque said the government is planning to procure rice from the upcoming Boro harvest to ensure fair prices for the farmers. He said the government started buying wheat this month to make sure that farmers do not face losses.
Former agriculture and food advisers Dr CS Karim and Dr AMM Shawkat Ali, World Food Programme Country Representative John Aylieff and Food and Agriculture Organisation Country Representative Ad Spijkers also spoke.
Source: The Daily Star, 10 April 2009