The government has taken up initiatives to import food grains soon as stocks at warehouses have halved.
So far, there have been international tenders for importing 2.5 lakh tonnes of food grains against the target of 6 lakh tonnes.
The remaining 3.5 lakh tonnes will be imported under the government-to-government (G2G) initiative.
The central bank's latest data show stocks of paddy and wheat fell by half to below 8 lakh tonnes at the end of December of this fiscal year compared to the same period of the previous year.
On the other hand, the latest food ministry statistics show stocks have come down to below 7 lakh tonnes.
Dr Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum, secretary to the food ministry, told The Business Standard initiatives have been taken to import rice cautiously to increase stocks.
"So far, the initiative to import 6 lakh tonnes has been confirmed," she said.
For now, the food ministry's target is to import 10 lakh tonnes of rice. If crops are damaged in the upcoming Boro season for any reason, imports may increase further, said Nazmanara.
Otherwise, 10 lakh tonnes would remain the target, she said.
Speaking about maintaining cautions in imports, the food secretary said there would be steps to ensure that farmers are not deprived of fair prices due to imports.
She said farmers got good Boro prices last year but not in 2019, and that is why the government wants to ensure good prices in the upcoming Boro season.
Dr Mohammad Jahangir Alam, professor of Agribusiness and Marketing at Bangladesh Agricultural University, said the initiative proves that the government wants to ensure imports by reducing dependency on the private sector.
The food secretary echoed him saying imports at the government level have been prioritised this time as the previous experience of importing at the private level was not good.
Letter of credit (LC) openings for rice imports have also increased as tariffs were reduced to cut import costs. According to the central bank, LCs of $44.25 million were opened at the end of December last, up from $2.22 million in the same period of the previous year.
Dr Monzur Hossain, research director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said all kinds of policy assistance needed for rice imports have to be implemented.
Experts say food security risks could arise if stocks are not increased. They say the government uses its own stocks to continue selling rice in the open market at low prices to keep food grainprices stable or to handle any disaster.
Since stocks have fallen by half compared to last year, the authorities need to focus on increasing stocks fast, said Dr Monzur.
Dr Jahangir said according to international standards, food security risks arise when stocks fall below 13.5 lakh tonnes.
But since the government has taken import initiatives, there is no big possibility of food security risk if the upcoming Boro season crops are not damaged, he said.
Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist at the World Bank's Dhaka office, said although food stocks have halved, there will be no food security risk due to the government's import initiatives.
In this regard, the food secretary said there is no big possibility of food security risk in the country as people now have enough food.
Despite the increase in import initiatives, the government lags behind in rice and paddy procurement. According to the central bank, paddy, rice, and wheat procurement decreased by 1.37 lakh tonnes in December compared to the same period of the previous fiscal year.
Dr Jahangir thinks many farmers have stocked paddy instead of selling it as floods disrupted production and also because they did not get good prices during Aman collection.
The food ministry has set a target to procure 8.5 lakh tonnes of paddy in the Aman season for the current financial year. But Aman paddy procured till 9 February was equivalent to only 61,000 tonnes of rice. The collection period started on 7 November and is scheduled to end on 28 February.
The food secretary said farmers are getting better prices in the market than what was set by the government.
"As they did not respond to the government's call for procurement, paddy procurement target is not being met this time. But this will not create any food security risk," she added.
Bangladesh was ranked at 83rd on the Global Food Security Index 2019 – the lowest among South Asian countries. The study calculated 113 countries' data on the core issues of affordability, availability, and quality of nutritious food for all.
In August 2020, the World Bank's board of executive directors approved $202 million in additional financing for the Modern Food Storage Facilities project to increase the storage capacity of Bangladesh's national strategic grain reserves by 535,500 tonnes for 4.5 million people.