Paddy worth about Tk6 crore is traded every day during the peak season in the Bhiosi Ghat market in Ashuganj, the largest paddy market in the eastern part of the country.
According to traders, paddy trading here dropped by 95% in the last two months for lack of buyers, pushing the traders to the brink.
Rice and paddy trading insiders said rice mill owners' reluctance to buy paddy (following the news about the import of 10 lakh tonnes of rice from India) has put the paddy traders at the market in a tight corner.
When the imported rice hits the markets, the price of rice will drop further. Rice mill owners are reluctant to buy new paddy before knowing the price of the Indian rice, they added.
According to the District Food Control Office, the government has imported 4 lakh tonnes of rice from India. Additionally, the food ministry allowed 320 companies to import 6.76 lakh tonnes of rice in two phases.
Around one lakh maunds of paddy are traded in the two hundred years old haat every day during the peak season, and 30,000 to 40,000 maunds in off-season. An average of 5,000 maunds of paddy is currently being sold every day.
Paddy traders said that this situation has persisted for the last two months owing to the virtual absence of rice millers, who are disinterested in buying paddy, blaming the recent price hike.
When asked, multiple rice millers claimed that rice prices would drop when India's rice entered the market…. eventually leading to a decrease in paddy prices as well.
During the peak season, paddy was sold at Tk600 to 700 per maund. The price of paddy is also relatively low during the season due to adequate market supply.
At present, a maund of BR-22 paddy is being sold for Tk1,100; BR-29 for Tk1,370-1,400 and BR-49 rice for Tk1,280. Two months ago, the per maund selling prices of BR-22, BR-29 and BR-49 paddy were Tk800-850, Tk1,080-1,100 and Tk900-950 respectively.
Helal Sikder, general secretary of Ashuganj Upazila Rice Mill Owners' Association, said, "Market condition isn't very good now. Although the price of paddy has gone up, the price of rice hasn't increased at the same rate. As a result, 80 percent of the rice mills have been shut down.
Yakub Mia, a businessman from Kishoreganj, said, "I have been involved in the paddy business for 20 years. For the last two months, paddy trade has declined due to a shortage of buyers.
"If this situation continues, people in the eastern part of the country will suffer," he said.
After procuring paddy from this market, traders supply rice across all the districts of Chattogram and Sylhet divisions, and some districts of Dhaka division as well.
This haat (market) mainly supplies paddy to more than 300 rice mills in the district, of which there are only 250 in Ashuganj upazila.
Paddies are entering the market from different locations of the country, including Brahmanbaria, Kishoreganj, Netrokona, Sunamganj, Sylhet and Habiganj.
Hasan Imran, proprietor of Rajnigandha Agro Foods in Ashuganj Upazila, said, "A few rice mills have been kept afloat with the paddy purchased, because when we buy fresh paddy and produce rice, we incur a substantial loss."
Both paddy and rice markets have come to a virtual standstill due to news reports of rice imports from India.
"We will monitor the market price of Indian rice and decide what to do next."