There are ample stocks of potatoes in the warehouses of potato wholesalers in the capital's Karwan Bazar. As in wholesale markets, there is no shortage of the kitchen staple in grocery and vegetable shops in different neighborhoods of Dhaka city.
The only problem is that the price is too high.
Market analysts blame market volatility on manipulation by profit-mongering syndicate of traders.
Golam Rahman, chairman of the Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB), said, "The prevalence of syndicates in the rice and onion markets is an old story. The dishonest quarters among businesspeople have now taken control of the potato market."
He acknowledged that there are some problems, including the surging vegetable prices, which have led to increased demand for potatoes. "However, with the volume of potatoes in stock, there is no chance of the price going up to Tk50 kg," he argued.
According to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), potatoes are now being sold at a price 111.11% higher compared to a year ago, even though the Department of Agricultural Extension says there are adequate stocks of potatoes and therefore there is no reason for so much of an increase in their prices.
To rein in the unjustifiable price hike of potatoes, the government has fixed its maximum retail price at Tk30. The kitchen staple is supposed to be sold at Tk25 in the wholesale markets and at Tk23 at the cold storage level.
Visiting various wholesale and retail markets in the capital on Thursday, The Business Standard, however, found that potatoes were being sold at Tk40-44 per kilogram at the wholesale level and Tk50 a kg at retail.
Officials of the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection have been conducting regular raids but have not been able to do anything about it as yet.
Mohammad Yusuf, director general of the DAE, told The Business Standard, "The cold storages in the country still have 25 lakh tonnes of potatoes, of which 15 lakh tonnes are stored as seed potatoes, in stocks. Therefore, there is no chance of a deficit at this point in time."
"We have set the maximum price for potatoes since traders are making hefty profits," he said.
Meanwhile, a team from the Directorate of Consumer Rights Protection on Thursday conducted a drive in the Karwan Bazar wholesale market. However, traders fled their shops during the drive.
On the other hand, the monitoring team could not take any action against the ones who were present at their shops, as they showed documents mentioning the purchase price.
Md Hafeez, a wholesaler and commission agent at Karwan Bazar, said, "There is no scope for reducing potato prices. We have to sell potatoes based on the prices at which we've bought them."
Retailers are also of the same opinion.
It has been learnt that potatoes are currently being sold at Tk39-40 at the cold storage level, almost double the government-fixed price of Tk23.
Asked about this discrepancy, Mosharraf Hossain said, "Consumption of potatoes has witnessed a surge owing to the high prices of vegetables. People distributed potatoes as food relief at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, which resulted in a supply shortage compared to demand."
Alongside potatoes, the prices of rice and onions have also kept shooting up.
According to worried stakeholders, the price of rice is being increased mainly through manipulation.
Even after a good yield of paddy, the price of rice is not decreasing.
The food ministry also fixed the price of rice to control the market, but it did not help.
The price of the fine variety of rice at the mill gate was fixed at Tk51.50 and that of medium quality rice at Tk45. However, the government could not implement its decision.
Fine variety miniket rice is currently being sold at Tk58-62 per kg at the retail shops in Dhaka. Some good-quality miniket varieties are even being sold at Tk65 a kg.
Besides, coarse varieties of rice are being sold at Tk48-50 per kg. The TCB says the current price of coarse rice is 41.18 % higher compared to last year.
Layek Ali, general secretary of the Bangladesh Auto Major and Husking Mill Association, however, tried to justify the surge in the price of coarse rice through claiming that the supply of the product is very low.
He said, "The cultivation of coarse paddy was less in the recent Boro season. Besides, coarse rice was distributed as relief among low-income people during the pandemic. All in all, coarse rice is in short supply in the market now."
During market visits, The Business Standard found that there was really some shortage of coarse rice in the retail shops. However, there was no shortage of miniket rice.
Meanwhile, onion prices have skyrocketed since India stopped exporting the bulb on 14 September this year.
The volatility of the onion market has not abated yet. Prices have started falling slightly since the start of imports from alternative sources, but the price has not come within the reach of the common people.
On Thursday, local onions were being sold at Tk90 per kg in retail markets in the capital. The price was Tk100 a week ago.
However, the prices of imported onions have not come down yet, although The Business Standard found that some onions imported from China were being sold in Dhaka markets.
At the wholesale level, imported onions were being sold at Tk75-80 per kg, while the retail price was Tk85-90 a kg.
According to the Plant Quarantine Wing of the Department of Agricultural Extension, not many imported onions have reached the country yet, although traders have obtained permission to import about six lakh tonnes of onions from different countries.
Vegetable prices in Chattogram beyond the reach
The prices of vegetables in the kitchen markets of Chattogram have gone beyond the reach of general consumers.
Various types of vegetables are being sold at Tk50-150 per kg in the port city.
Maryam Ferdousi, a housewife in the Anderkilla area of the city, said Covid-19 has halved the salary of her husband, the only earning member of the family, but the prices of consumer goods, especially vegetables, have increased two to three times. Living in such a situation has become miserable.
Although the retail price of potatoes was fixed at Tk30, it is still being sold at Tk50-60 per kg.
Buyers said the administration should intensify market monitoring activities to bring the prices of other vegetables, including potatoes, within the reach of buyers.
Abdul Jalil, general secretary of the Kazir Deuri Kitchen Market Association, said the prices were a bit higher since fresh produce was sold here compared to other markets. However, he said he would discuss with the vegetable sellers the matter of selling the potatoes at the prices fixed by the government.
The Department of Agricultural Marketing has requested all deputy commissioners to take strict surveillance measures to ensure the sale of potatoes at the fixed prices.
Although one week has passed since the letter was issued, the price of potatoes has not decreased but has instead increased.
Chattogram Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Ilias Hossain said, "I am not aware of the letter from the Department of Agricultural Marketing regarding potato pricing and market monitoring."
Vegetable growers and sellers said that the price of vegetables has gone up in the market due to vegetables being spoilt in the fields owing to flooding.
Salauddin, a vegetable farmer in Mirsarai, said about 50% of the vegetables in the field were destroyed by the rains 15 days ago. As a result, the supply of vegetables is less than usual.
Vegetable sellers said a large quantity of the supply of vegetables comes from North Bengal. Due to the rains there, the supply of vegetables in the Chattogram market has decreased. ***