The government's initiatives to control price volatility in the daily commodity markets are of little use due to the unavailability of actual production and demand data.
According to agricultural economists at a discussion organized by Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council (BARC) on Thursday, the first step is to analyze authentic, data-driven research.
Sheikh Md Bakhtiar, executive chairman (acting) of BARC presided over the ceremony.
"Some traders are exploiting the disparity between production and demand of products," said M Mizanul Haque Kajol, professor at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University and secretary general of the Association of Agricultural Economists.
Citing India's example, he said, "We must take steps to preserve real-time data. Information must be free-flowing so that all stakeholders are kept aware."
Ishtiaq Ahmed, vice-president of the Bangladesh Cold Storage Association, said, "The production of potatoes was low this year. Where 50-55 lakh tonnes of potatoes are stored in cold storage every year, this time, it was 40 lakh tonnes."
"There were discussions everywhere that there were 45 lakh tonnes of potatoes in cold storage this time. Due to low vegetable production during Covid-19, potato consumption has increased. But this has not been reflected in the data," he added.
Highlighting the instability in the onion market, Md Shamshur Rahman, deputy director of the Agricultural Extension Department, said, "Similarly, the onion market has been similarly volatile for the last two years. There was no advance preparation to tackle this. Immediate remedial action must be taken when such situations arise."
Under the direction of the Ministry of Agriculture, BARC will conduct three separate studies on onion, potato and rice, in which scientists, officials and agricultural economists from multiple organisations will participate.
BARC Executive Chairman, Sheikh Mohammad Bakhtiar said, "The studies will focus on the reasons behind the rise in product prices, challenges and constraints in production, import, wholesale, retail, among others. The studies will also make recommendations for long-term mitigation of these issues."
However, Executive Director of the Agricultural Research Foundation, Jiban Krishna Bishwash said, "Everybody is aware of political influence in every case and the involvement of syndicates. The research should cover both these aspects."
According to the representatives of different organizations, including the Ministry of Food, Tariff Commission, and Department of Agricultural Marketing, traders have become savvier now.
They track real-time market data of domestic and foreign products and leverage the information whenever a problem arises.
It is worth noting that after India stopped exporting onions to Bangladesh on 14 September, the price of onions increased to Tk120 overnight. Local onion varieties are still being sold at Tk80, while imported varieties are being sold at Tk50-60.
The government had set the selling price of rice after the market instability, but traders could not take effectively leverage the new price point.
A kilogram of miniket rice now costs Tk58-60, while coarse rice sells at Tk48-50.
Similarly, the government set the selling price of potatoes twice in the aftermath of the volatility in the potato market. In this case, traders did adhere to the government set price. Potatoes are now sold at Tk50 per kilogram.
BARC is focusing on research to identify the root causes of these crises.