Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi has announced plans to increase the production of mustard, rice bran and canola oils, identifying them as alternatives to soybean oil.
"It is possible to increase the production of rice bran to seven lakh tonnes," the minister said, adding that the current production of rice bran is 50,000-60,000 tonnes.
"If we can do that, 25% of the country's total demand can be met," he told journalists after a second meeting of the task force committee on commodity price review at the Bangladesh Secretariat on Wednesday.
Other than that, Munshi said, rice bran is better than soybean and "soybean is harmful to health".
"Similarly, we are going to focus on mustard production. Mustard production can also be significantly increased, which will meet a major portion of our domestic demand," he said.
He added, efforts are also being made to increase canola oil imports and the agriculture ministry is working according to this plan.
The commerce minister said the country has no shortage of edible oil at the moment.
"Millers have also said that with the oil available in the country, our needs will be met," he said.
"The question is, how long it will continue? Will we rely only on soybean and imports, or will we consume mustard, rice bran, and canola oils as alternatives to soybean oil? We have to make that decision now. We need to change our habits," he added.
No barrier to importing wheat from India
Speaking to reporters, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said there was no impediment to importing wheat from India.
He said at the moment it is widely rumoured that India has stopped wheat exports to Bangladesh, but that is not true.
"A large portion of our wheat is imported from India and the market started to show an impact after hearing the news. But everyone should know that the import of wheat has not stopped at the G-to-G level. Wheat can be bought as much as desired through government-to-government negotiations as a neighbouring country," he said.
There are also big importers who import wheat from India and other importers can also import wheat, the minister said.
However, permission for this import has to be taken from the government, he said, adding that given permission, private sector importers will be able to import wheat at full capacity.
"That is why the sanctions imposed by India will not affect us in any way," said Tipu Munshi.
He said the price of wheat has gone up in the country on news of the suspension of Indian exports due to some unscrupulous businessmen.
"However, with the amount available in stock and in the process of being imported, we do not fear any shortage in the country at present. We have as much wheat as we need," he added.
At what price should you buy onions?
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said a decision needs to be made on how low the price of onion should be.
He said the increase in the price of onions is being discussed in the country now. "We need to decide at what price we should eat onions and how much more should be given to farmers," he added.
He said if people want onions at Tk20 per kg, then farmers will not survive. They will not produce it. They will stop production.
"We have to go for a price where farmers get a fair price for their onions and consumers get it within their purchasing power, because we have to protect the interests of both farmers and consumers," he added.
The commerce minister said the agriculture ministry has given them an estimate that the cost of production per kg onion for farmers is Tk20-21 and it even goes higher, depending on location.
However, besides production costs, there is rotting and wastage which farmers have to factor into the cost of production, he added.
Upon harvesting, the minister said farmers need to have a profit of Tk5-6 per kg.
"If we import 100 tons of onions today, 3-4% of that will rot in a month. So it has to be included in the price. If the price is Tk25-30 at the farmer level, then it will retail for Tk40-45. Consumers are able to afford onions at this price and it's time to think about onions at that price," he added.
Senior Commerce Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh, and Director General of the Directorate of National Consumers Right Protection, AHM Safiquzzaman, were, among others, present at the press briefing.