Importers and traders are currently selling chickpea, an essential Ramadan commodity, at a larger than usual profit margin, wholesalers have alleged.
People involved in the business said there is no shortage of chickpea, but a small number of traders hold most of the imported goods in their warehouses and increasing their price unscrupulously.
According to the wholesalers of pulses in the country's largest wholesale market Khatunganj, the price of chickpea has gone up by Tk400-700 per maund (37.32 kg) in the last one month, which is very unusual.
Good quality Australian chickpea is currently sold at Tk2,600-2,700 per maund (Tk70-72 per kg)in Khatunganj. However, one month ago the same quality chickpea was sold in the market at around Tk2,200 (Tk60 per kg) – around Tk400-500 less than the current price.
A month ago, medium quality Australian chickpea was sold in the market for Tk1,700-1,800 per maund (Tk45-48 per kg). Its price has increased byTk400-700 per maund, reaching Tk2,200-2,400 per maund (Tk59-64 per kg).
A week ago, chickpea from Myanmar was sold at Tk2,400 per maund (Tk64 per kg) in the market. In just one week, the price of a maund of Myanmar chickpea has gone up by Tk400 and reached Tk2,800 (Tk75 per kg).
The traders said the chickpea available in the market now was booked in the international market in January for $550-570 per tonne (Tk47-48.5 per kg). That means, the booking price of chickpea in January was Tk1,750-1,800 per maund. Adding the import cost, bringing each maund of good quality chickpea to the market cost a maximum of Tk2,000, but it is now being sold at around Tk2,700.
Medium quality chickpea is currently being sold at Tk2,200-2400 per maund. The maximum booking price for this chickpea in January was Tk1,600. In other words, traders are making profits of Tk600-800 for each maund now.
Asked about the reason for the increase in prices, Azizul Haque, a wholesale pulse trader in Khatunganj and proprietor of Haque Trading, said, "Most of the imported chickpea is stocked in the warehouses of a small number of traders. So, those two or three traders are controlling the chickpea market."
He said enough chickpea had been imported as per demand and more than 50,000 tonnes of chickpea are expected to enter the market through Chattogram port and Teknaf port in the next two weeks.
Another wholesale pulse trader and proprietor of Taiyabiya Traders, Md Solaiman Badshah, said, "There is no rule on what percentage of profit the importers should make for the imported goods. Even then, it is enough to make around Tk200 profit for a maund of chickpea imported at Tk1,600-1,800 at the wholesale level. But it is very unusual and immoral to make a profit of Tk800-1000 per maund of chickpea."
A number of wholesale traders said the BSM Group in Khatunganj has already imported 16,000 tonnes of chickpea, which they are selling to wholesalers in Khatunganj and other parts of the country. Meanwhile,the BSM Group and RM Enterprise also bought 25,000 tonnes of chickpea that was imported by a well-known industrial group of the country. As most of the imported chickpea is held by these two companies, they now have a monopoly in the chickpea market, complained the wholesalers.
Importers and traders also confirmed that two other consignments of 16,000 tonnes and 12,000 tonnes of chickpea imported by the BSM Group and Bismillah Group respectively will also reach the market this week.
Bismillah Group's owner Jamal Hossain claimed, "The importers bought chickpea from the international market at an increased price in the last couple of months. Then a number of big companies here bought it from them and increased the price again while selling it to the wholesalers.
Regarding the increase in the price of chickpea, Paritosh Dey, general secretary of the Chattogram Pulses Mill Owners' Association, said, "We cannot do anything when one or two traders accumulate most of the products in the market under the open market system. The importers and big companies have kept the market trend upward by mentioning higher booking prices in the international market."
Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said,"It is normal for traders to make profits in business. However, we urge importers and traders to sell the product at a price consistent with the cost of importing of the product. We urge them not to destabilise the market by increasing the prices of products excessively."
According to Chattogram Customs House, around 1.71 lakh tonnes of chickpea and pea were imported through Chattogram port in the first eight months (July-February) of the current fiscal year. In the same period last year, around 2 lakh tonnes of chickpea and pea were imported. Besides, import of chickpea from Myanmar through Teknaf port has been going on in the last few weeks.