Md Farid lives with his wife and 18-month old baby in a room in Dhaka's Malibagh area. He used to work at a private hospital, but lost his job after the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country.
Barely surviving on borrowed money and what little savings he had before becoming unemployed, Farid told The Business Standard, "I am now facing a double jeopardy, as I have no income and the cost of essentials are high.
"I have made my list for buying essential food items very small, because I could not find another way."
A research, conducted recently by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), revealed that 1.64 crore people now share a fate similar to Farid, after freshly sliding below the poverty line due to impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to the research, Bangladesh had a poverty rate of 20% before the pandemic, which increased to 29% after economic activities slowed down to a crawl during the two-month general holiday, imposed by the government to stem the tide of Covid-19 infections.
Currently, there are 4.8 crore people living below the poverty line, and high food costs are posing a serious threat to Bangladesh's nutrition security.
Experts pointed out that the people's income has dropped, but the prices of commodities have skyrocketed. Floods, which hit the country in three phases, have disrupted the production and supply chain of crops.
Under such circumstances, people will not be able to spend more on food even if they want to. Experts expressed concerns that the lack of nutrition might turn into a serious crisis for Bangladesh in the coming days.
Dr Monirul Islam, director of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council's (BARC) Nutrition Department, said, "The symmetry between supply and demand no longer exists, triggering the crisis of soaring essential commodity prices in the markets.
"The well-off People have the money to buy nutritious food items such as fruits and vegetables, but they are not always interested in eating those. Whereas the low-income people are unable to eat nutritious food as their income has dropped."
Bangladesh's Ministry of Agriculture and United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is jointly observing the World Food Day 2020 on Friday in a bid to address such issues. This year's theme is "Grow, Nourish, Sustain, Together. Our actions are our future."
Market insiders said nearly all essential food items, such as rice, edible oil, onions, potatoes, vegetables and eggs are being sold at high prices. The prices started to increase during the beginning of the pandemic in Bangladesh.
Back then, farmers had to throw away their agricultural goods after failing to sell them. But now nearly all vegetables are being sold for more than Tk80.
Sources said that despite the government's efforts to set the maximum retail price of rice, the prices still remain high. However, Bangladesh's rice production increased to around 3.87 lakh tonnes in the last fiscal year, which had exceeded the demand.
Local production of onion meets 70% of the country's demand, but repeated disruptions plaguing the kitchen essential's import has caused massive fluctuations in its price.
The government has also set the maximum retail price for potatoes, but the price remains high regardless of this effort. The price of potatoes has gone up by 111.11% compared to the same period in the previous year.
In an event organised on Thursday to mark the World Food Day, Agriculture Minister Dr Md Abdur Razzak said, "We are putting the utmost importance on food production. There are no shortages in food production despite the crises caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, natural disasters such as cyclone and floods."
He later added, "Despite our successes in the sector, we must remain alert of the food and nutrition security situation in Bangladesh after the post-Covid period."
Addressing the issue, Consumer Association of Bangladesh's (CAB) Chairman Golam Rahman said, "The government has taken some important steps to boost the production of crops, but they are not making much headway in controlling the commodity market.
"Because the government has fallen behind in increasing the supply of essentials to stabilise the market. So, those with reduced income are cutting back on consuming food items.
Quoting the findings of a number of international researches, The International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) has revealed that the country could take a severe hit to its nutrition security due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The institution's Executive Director Dr Tahmeed Ahmed at a recent event said, "In the post-Covid period, the per capita income of people living in low and middle income countries will drop by 4% and malnutrition will increase by 14% on average.
"The child mortality rate will also increase due to malnutrition."
Bangladesh has also fallen behind in the field of nutrition supply. According to the FAO, a person should eat 104 eggs per year. Production of eggs is sufficient to meet the demand, but the country is lagging behind in the production of milk, fish and meat.
As production of these food items are insufficient to meet the demand, their prices are high in the market.
Arif Hossain, CEO and executive director of Farming Future Bangladesh, said, "Not everyone in the country has the financial capacity to eat Fish, meat, milk and eggs. Supply of these food items should be increased so that their prices drop low enough to become accessible for those people."
Farming Future Bangladesh works towards achieving modern agricultural innovations in the country.