Amidst dried up wheat stock in the country the government has decided to halt allocation of the grain for all relief works in the current fiscal and supply rice instead.

The decision to stop releasing wheat from public silos for relief purposes under the Prime Minister’s Office and the ministries of relief and disaster and CHT affairs have taken on Wednesday, officials at the Food Ministry confirmed.

It has been decided that if needed rice will be supplied instead of scheduled wheat allocation meant for relief works under the heads of Ashrayan Project, Test Relief (TR), Food-for-Work (FFW), etc.

The move comes when high prices of wheat in the international market see Bangladesh import volume plummets in recent months.

Just a year into Bangladesh’s emergence as the world’s 5th largest wheat importer after Egypt, Indonesia, Algeria, and Brazil in 2020-21, the country’s import has hit a new low in the current fiscal.

The huge drop in wheat imports come at a time when Bangladesh’s newfound export item (wheat-based products) was just making a niche.

Tension over the Russia-Ukraine situation is rattling international grain markets, driving wheat prices higher in some of the markets from where Bangladesh sources its wheat.

Russia and Ukraine – two nations combined account for 29% of global wheat exports, according to data from the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA).

Food Ministry data shows there is less than 300,000 tons of wheat available in public granaries as against a good rice stock of 16,76,000 tons and it decided rest of the allocation for relief works will be made in rice instead of wheat up until June this year.

Wheat import scenario

USDA says Bangladesh emerged as the world’s 5th largest importer of wheat by importing the grain in excess of seven million tons in the last marketing year (2020-21).

On Thursday, Agriculture Minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque said Bangladesh imported 4.8 million tons of wheat in the 2020-21 financial year, which has dropped to just 1.6 million tons in the first seven months of the current fiscal.

He assigned high wheat prices in the international market for such a fall in imports. “We used to get wheat at $230-280 a ton but the price has shot up to $450. That’s why flour prices now surpass the rice prices.”

Food Ministry data, however, shows Bangladesh’s last financial year’s import volume at 5.3 million tons, of which private importers brought over 4.8 million tons and the government imported nearly half a million tons.

But this fiscal’s imports dropped to over 1.6 million tons (by private importers) and 390,000 tons (by the government) in the first seven months.

Directorate General of Food on Tuesday floated an international tender seeking to buy 50,000 tons of wheat under the public sector.

From which countries Bangladesh buys wheat

Bangladesh largely depends on Russian, Ukrainian, Canadian markets for the bulk of its annual wheat imports.

Ukraine, Russia, Canada, Argentina, and the US were the top five exporting countries for wheat in Bangladesh in the 2019-20 financial year.

However, alongside Russia, India emerged as a major wheat exporter to Bangladesh in 2020-21, relegating Ukraine to 3rd position. Canada’s wheat export volume to Bangladesh also saw a rise from about 1 million tons in 2019-20 to over 1.4 million tons in the last fiscal.

Wheat-based product exports

While Bangladesh is importing wheat primarily for domestic consumption, a small amount is used to produce wheat-based products for export.

According to the Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh (EPB), the export value of wheat-based products in 2020-21 was approximately $283 million, an increase of about 160 percent over 2016-17’s figure.

Common wheat-based products exported from Bangladesh include bread, pastry, cakes, sweet biscuits, roasted cereals, and pasta.

Market sources apprehend a negative impact on wheat-based product exports from Bangladesh if high wheat prices continue to result in a lower volume of wheat imports.

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