In line with a nationwide effort to stop the coronavirus from spreading across Bangladesh, 40 lentil mills have been shut down in Khatunganj, Chattogram – an important wholesale hub for the essential commodity.
As a result, prices of all varieties of lentil have shot up by Tk5 to Tk10 per kilogram in the market.
With Ramadan right around the corner, this price shock could soon be felt all over the country.
Traders said the government shut down the lentil processing mills and the workers left for their hometowns. Some businessmen who stocked up on the product are now selling it at a higher price, they added.
According to the Khatunganj Lentil Mill Owner Association, there are 40 mills in the area with 40-50 workers employed in each of them. The mills could process around 12 to 48 tonnes of lentil based on their capacities.
Ahmad Rashid Amu, president of Khatunganj Lentil Mill Owner Association, said about 2,000 workers are employed at all the mills.
"The mills have been shut down by government order. Processing from the imported grains has been stopped. So there is no new lentil in the market," he added.
In the local markets, red lentil are being sold at Tk65 to Tk70 per kg, while its smaller variant are being sold at Tk110 to Tk130 per kg.
Just last week, the red lentil had cost Tk60 to Tk65 per kg, while the smaller variety was being sold at Tk100 to Tk120.
Another popular variety of lentil locally known as Mug Daal (de-husked green gram) saw a price hike of Tk19 per kilogram.
According to a report by the commerce ministry, the annual demand for red lentil in Bangladesh is 5 lakh tonnes. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, the country produced 2.5 lakh tonnes and imported the rest.
Khatunganj traders said that the prices could spiral out of control if the mills do not open up soon.
Solaiman Badshah, a lentil importer, told The Business Standard that the mills are closed for a week and the imported grains are stored in the warehouse, creating a shortage in the market.
Consumers prefer imported lentil from Australia and Canada, said Syed Sagir Ahmed, general secretary of Khatunganj Trade and Industries Association.
"The sales of imported lentil is twice that of local ones. But the imported lentil need to be processed at the mills," he said.
The Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) urged the government to control the price of daily essentials.
CAB Vice President SM Nazir Hossain said that since low-income people are stuck at home due to the shutdown, a hike in the price of rice and lentil – their staple foods – could put them in trouble.
He urged the government to distribute essential commodities among the low-income people for free.