The government has begun importing rice because of low food stocks. Tenders have been invited for the import of 50,000 tonnes in the first phase despite a decision to import three lakh tonnes.
"Our food stocks are a bit low," Food Secretary Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum told The Business Standard.
"That is why the process of importing 50,000 tonnes of rice has started in the first phase."
If necessary, more rice will be imported later, she said.
Nazmanara also said the private sector would be permitted to import rice for the time being.
On 14 November, tenders were invited for importing rice.
Food ministry sources said food stock was 8.80 lakh tonnes on 15 November, including 6.20 lakh tonnes of rice and 2.60 lakh tonnes of wheat, and over 15 lakh tonnes in July.
According to food ministry and food directorate sources, food stocks plummeted fast this year due to extra open market sales (OMS) of rice in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and distribution of rice and wheat as relief across the country. If the government's food grains stocks shrink, it will create a crisis.
Analysts say the Boro season saw a good harvest of paddy, but the government could not build additional stocks. It is because many did not sell paddy at the government-fixed price since prices were high in the open market.
On the same pretext, many mill owners did not deliver rice to government food warehouses in accordance with the agreement they had signed.
A former research director at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council and agricultural economist, Dr Jahangir Alam, told The Business Standard it was considered normal if the government's food stock was above 10 lakh tonnes.
"If it goes below that, traders think the government is in trouble. They then try to take control of the market. That is why the government should increase its stocks quickly."
The yield of Aman was unlikely to be as expected this time due to floods, Alam said. "This can have an effect after two to three months. The government must be ready for that now."
According to the food ministry, 2.19 lakh tonnes of paddy, 6.5 lakh tonnes of boiled rice and about one lakh tonnes of non-parboiled (Atap) rice were collected in the last Boro season, and collection for that season is over. The collection of paddy for the Aman season started on 7 November, and that of rice on 15 November.
However, paddy rice has not been collected as harvesting has not started in full swing yet. The government has set a target of collecting 8.5 lakh tonnes of paddy and rice during the Aman season this year.
The food secretary said rice prices were already high in the market and could go up further if the government procured rice from the market.
That is why the government has decided to buy rice from the international market, she added.