Not many footpath vendors grin when they tell you how pricier their fruits are. But Abul Bashar, a street trader in Dhaka's New Eskaton area, was smiling when he said that per piece of his bananas now cost Tk15, and he did not have any banana below Tk10.
"Prices of everything are now surging. Bananas now cost us more when we buy those from the wholesalers. Therefore, I cannot sell it below this," he had his explanation ready, as he was told bananas were at Tk10 per piece even 10-15 days ago.
He was smiling probably because he knew his prices were not exceptional, rather all over the capital were paying more for bananas.
Agricultural Extension estimates show cultivation of the fruit dropped by 1.69 lakh tonnes in the FY2020-21 compared to the previous year. Is the reduced yield responsible for the price hikes?
To find the answer, these correspondents visited wholesale fruit markets in Dhaka's Karwan Bazar, Wais Ghat and Badamtoli.
Tofail Ahmed, a banana wholesaler at Karwan Bazar, said banana production did not drop, as he attributed the price hikes to soaring fertiliser, pesticides, labour and transportation costs.
Tofail, who usually brings in bananas from Jhenaidah, Jashore, Kushtia, Natore, Faridpur, Dinajpur and Netrokona by big trucks, said, "At fields, per hand of banana currently cost Tk50 to Tk100 more."
"Earlier I used to buy bananas at Tk500 per 80 pieces from Saddampur in Jashore. The same bananas are now at Tk600. Besides, the transportation and loading and unloading costs have gone up too," said the wholesaler.
Nasir Sheikh, a banana wholesaler in Wais Ghat on the bank of River Buriganga, too said banana prices have gone up at farmer level, and transportation has become costlier.
On a separate note, Nasir said he had to pay Tk4 toll per bunch of bananas at Sadarghat launch terminal before the pandemic, but that is now at Tk12. "The increase in the price is mainly due to spiralling transportation expenses."
Abdul Qaiyum, a rickshaw puller in Dhaka's Moghbazar, said he used to eat a Tk10-bread and Tk7 banana as snacks. But as banana prices jump and bread turns to Tk15 per piece, he often consumes bread without banana.
"A piece of biscuit was at Tk3 three months ago, now there are no biscuits below Tk5," he commented.
According to a survey conducted by non-governmental organisation Brac last year, the rate of extreme poverty has increased by 60%. As many as 14% of people had no food at home.
Of the poor segment of the population, there were day labourers, construction workers and rickshaw pullers.
The findings highlighted the Covid fallout on people's income, which many economists say has intensified by the rising food and commodity prices.
Another survey by the state-owned statistics bureau also noted the pandemic-led income crunch.
"People are in more trouble now than what the findings suggested by the statistics bureau during the pandemic. At present, food and essential goods prices are abnormally high in the local market," Sayema Haque Bidisha, an economics professor at Dhaka University and research director at the South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (Sanem), told The Business Standard.