The food ministry is set to propose stocking more foodgrains in the next fiscal year amid the coronavirus pandemic in order for the government's food friendly programmes for the poor not to experience any bumps.
The food budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year looks to collecting 32 lakh tonnes of foodgrains, 10 lakh tonnes more than in the current year.
The Ministry of Food has, therefore, sought an allocation of Tk18,197 crore in the upcoming budget, which is Tk2,458 crore more than in the previous year.
Food ministry officials have said the raised allocation will mostly be used for expanding the capacity of the Open Market Sales (OMS) programme -- a food friendly scheme for the poor.
The Directorate General of Food usually formulates budget proposals for the food ministry. Sources at the government office said they plan to expand the OMS programme as per government order so that poor people can survive even if the pandemic situation is prolonged.
Meanwhile, food ministry officials have noted that coronavirus cases have spiked with no sign so far of scaling back. In an unprecedented turn of events, the pandemic is making casualties of many jobs every passing day, pushing increasing numbers of people to the verge of starvation.
According to the Directorate General of Food, food collection by the government has been a record high this year, amounting to more than 22 lakh tonnes. The government collection is utilised for food friendly programmes round the year and at the same time helps ensure for farmers fair prices for their produce.
Since the coronavirus breakout, the government has reduced the price of OMS rice to Tk10 from Tk30 per kilogram and moved to provide 30 lakh people across the country with 30 kg rice a month.
The food ministry budget proposal also sought Tk6,044 crore subsidy for food friendly programmes. The allocation was Tk5,253 crore this year.
Targets for rice and wheat collection from internal sources have been set at around 26 lakh tonnes. Besides, imports will add another 32 lakh tonnes of foodgrains, including 5.50 lakh tonnes of paddy and wheat.The collections will cost around Tk11,329 crore.
Food Secretary Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum said, "Allocation for food has been proposed to be raised in the upcoming budget as in previous years. Moreover, we are going through a difficult situation and nobody knows how long this will continue."
A recent study has shown the pandemic has drastically affected low income groups. The study, jointly conducted by Brac, Data Sense and Unnayan Shamannay, notes that 10.22 crore people are facing high economic and health risks in Bangladesh.
Moreover, about 74 percent of families have seen a reduction in income because of the coronavirus pandemic. Of those surveyed, at least one individual from 34.8 percent of families has lost jobs. Family income went down by an average of 74 percent till May.
On top of that, the apparel manufacturers' association on Thursday warned that the garments sector may go through a lay-off process as orders for products have dried up.
Experts fear that the pandemic will push thousands into unemployment and new employment will remain elusive. The government will have to be beside the people at least with food to overcome the crisis.
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of Policy Research Institute, told The Business Standard that the government should have preparations in place to help low income and jobless people in the pandemic crisis. As such, the forthcoming budget should have extra allocations for food.