The recent price spiral of essential commodities in Bangladesh, especially in the capital, has caused a double blow to the poor & low-income classes. It has been quite difficult for them to meet their daily basic needs, as they are already hit hard due to Covid-19 epidemic. Pandemic has halted the economic activities. It has changed our economic structure too. Sanem reports that 42 percent of the population has fallen below the poverty line.
The soaring prices of essentials forced them to rush to TCB trucks & stand in a long queue in this scorching summer. The price of oil was BDT 505 in October last year, now it costs 700 to buy it. Prices of onions, lentils, broiler chickens, eggs and vegetables have gone up in the last two weeks. The price of onion has almost doubled. Domestic onions could be bought at 40 tk per kg, now it costs 60. There is no festival or occasion, yet the price of broiler chicken has reached 160 per kg, which is usually between BDT 120 to 140. The price of coarse rice in the market has reached 50 tk. The price of LPG has been rising by an average of BDT 100 in the last few months. If the price of an item goes up, its effect on the lower class is several times more.
In Dhaka and other parts of the country, there are large crowds of men and women standing in long lines before TCB trucks. Now the risk of virus is relatively low, but even when so many people were dying every day, they stood in those lines at the risk of their lives. This line starts long before the truck arrives. Needless to say, this service is extremely inadequate compared to the need, so every time the goods of the truck run out and some people get deprived.
Every country has a mainstay of its economy. Paddy, jute, wheat, tea and sugarcane are some of the income crops of the present day farmers of Bangladesh. Fertile soil and favorable climate are the sources of this diverse crop production. Eighty percent of households are involved in agricultural income. The production cost of paddy remained higher than the market price for past three years. On the other hand, even though the import duty on rice has been reduced every time, the price of rice has not come down.
The price of jute has come down alarmingly as the jute industry collapsed gradually. Since the jute mill was completely shut down last year, the price of chalk is now higher than that of jute. Jute mill workers are living inhumane lives amidst the pandemic. Jute farmers in the greater Faridpur region have had to incur losses. Moreover, Tea workers do not have adequate wages. The government does not collect crops directly from farmers, but from intermediaries. As a result, the farmer loses the profit of his crop. The profit which should have gained by farmer now goes to capitalist. Alongside the Crop losses & pandemic shocks, farmers’ hands are running out of money due to the high prices of daily necessities. The prices of gas and electricity were first increased during the Corona epidemic. If the price of gas and electricity goes up, the car rent will go up and the price of fertilizer will go up. Ultimately, the cost of irrigation increases. In other words, the price of every necessity is bound to rise overnight. Besides, the equation of gas and electricity prices depends on the politics of the rice market.
Recently a famine took place in Sri Lanka. Their market situation was dire and so food crisis reached an extreme level. Vegetables ranging from rice, pulses, sugar; even the prices of baby food and dairy products were beyond the reach. Gas cylinders were sold at inflated prices. In the first week of this month, the state itself declared a state of emergency. They have reached out to the doors of different countries of the world. The main reason for the recent crisis in Sri Lanka is intermediaries. Money has gone to a handful of capitalists. As a result, people lost the balance of purchasing power over income. On the contrary, the unscrupulous syndicate traders have created artificial problems on the pretext of epidemic crisis. The food system was in the grip of stockpiling and black market. As a result, the state system itself has lost its way. It’s almost similar to the artificial salt & onion crisis in our country just before the pandemic.
The business authorities in Bangladesh could not present any suitable reason for the recent inflated prices of essential commodities. As always, they have spoken of an artificial crisis, a shortage of supplies and rising prices in the international market. The government is also in discomfort. Though there is talk of increasing the price of rice in the international market, it is not true. Rather, the price of rice in the international market is much lower than ours. The market is not being controlled even with the pricing of goods, exemption from import duty and subsidy. In order to prevent any untoward situation, the accounting of warehousing and stockpiling of daily commodities by the mill owners and government control have become urgent. It has become urgent too to calculate the price at which the mill owners buy the paddy and how much is spent on processing.
Lack of food has never increased the price of goods in this world; there has never been a crisis. There is a crisis in the hoarding of stockists, in warehousing. After the epidemic in the first half of the nineteenth century, we saw people all over the world starving to death on the one hand, and stockpiling companies on the other. We have witnessed the crisis of ’43 and ’74. Even before Corona was the victim of the black effect of hoarding. Everyone should remember the artificial salt crisis at the early days of 2020 and their attempt to create extra profit by spreading rumors and causing salt pans. Few days later, Onion market instability is a living proof of stockpiling. Though unscrupulous traders are unable to cope with the greed for extra profits, the low-income & middle class are in extreme sufferings.
However, no effective measures are being taken to control the rise in commodity prices. The activities of stopping the black market are not visible in the whole country.
Failure to provide the necessary food to the people between income and purchasing power can lead to bad days like Sri Lanka. The balance of purchasing power of essential commodities is the right of the mass people. It is time to crack down on corruption, black market and hoarding in Bangladesh. If we focus on agriculture by saving the farmers in the fragile situation of the world, on the one hand, such food supply will come, on the other hand, it is possible to deal with the economic crisis. Otherwise a catastrophe awaits our destiny.
The writer is a student of Economics, University of Dhaka.