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Poor food stock forces government of Bangladesh to distribute cash

Published 08 Apr,2021 via The Financial Express - The government has decided to distribute cash instead of food to the poor under various safety net programmes and others hit hard by the pandemic.

The low food stock in its storages has forced the government to take such a decision.

The food grain stock in public warehouses is one of the lowest in many years.

Last year, the government distributed rice at Tk 10 per kg apart from other food and consumer items (grain plus programme) to support the poor people during the holiday, announced last year to rein in the pandemic.

Officials at food and disaster management ministries said the government distributes food grains under nearly 15 safety net programmes throughout the year.

The number of cardholders is around 5.0 million. But the number increased to about 9.0 million during the Covid-19 pandemic last year. This has prompted the government to distribute more food grains than the usual volume. The erosion in food stock could not be compensated because of huge shortfall in food procurement from both domestic and foreign sources.

Seeking anonymity, a food ministry source said the food grain stock in government warehouses until April 07 was only 0.49 million tonnes. Of the total, 0.39 million tonnes are rice and 92000 tonnes are wheat. The standard food grain stock has been 1.0 million tonnes, of which 70 to 80 per cent is rice.

Last year, the food stock was 1.6 million tonnes.

The disaster management ministry has decided to distribute Tk 18.6 million to the poor and vulnerable group of the country during the lockdown. The money was supposed to be distributed during the holy month of Ramadan.

Besides, Tk 45 million under VGF programme will also be distributed in advance due to the lockdown which was supposed to be distributed during Eid-ul-Fitr. If the duration of lockdown prolongs, the allocation will be increased and it will stop allocation separately for the lockdown if the duration of lockdown is reduced.

The deputy commissioners of 64 districts received the instructions on Tuesday. Each eligible recipient will get Tk 500. Besides, they will get food packet for which the ministry has allocated Tk 70 million.

The ministry will also distribute Tk 1.21 billion from gratuitous relief (GR) programme during the lockdown which was kept for Ramadan. On an average, each union will get Tk 0.25 million. Another Tk 100 million will be allocated for distribution of food packets.

From March 24 last year the government provided cash and food support to 70 million people after the pandemic situation worsened and the lockdown continued for 66 days. People living in the city corporation areas including Dhaka and Narayanganj got more support as the population is high here.

Experts also said the government distributes around 0.1 million tonnes of food grain to the poor every month under 15 social protection programmes (roughly 22000 tonnes a week). So, the government can smoothly continue food grain support programme with the stock of 0.49 million tonnes for another three to four months.

But due to the pandemic and lockdown, the middle-class people will also face problem who will not get any support from the government as there is a shortfall in stock. There will have hardly any impact on the rice market. The private sector has an enough stock of food grain, they added.

The government procures less than 1.0 per cent of rice of the total production of 38.7 million tonnes which is 3.0 million tonnes. The government does not think much about the middle-class people. That's why there is no food grain crisis in the country, they added.

The government set target to procure 0.2 million tonnes of Aman paddy and 0.65 million tonnes of rice this year. But it could procure only 12000 tonnes of paddy and 83000 tonnes of wheat since November 07 last year to March this year.

On the other hand, the Boro season will start from April 15 and will continue until September 15.

The target for Boro procurement last year was set at 0.9 million tonnes of rice. The government finally could procure 0.8 million tonnes of paddy and 1.15 million tonnes of rice last year. This year no target has been set.

The government has imported 0.22 million tonnes of rice and the private sector 0.52 million tonnes as of April 06 from India, Thailand and Vietnam etc. will fill the gap.

A cumulative 0.26 million tonnes of wheat was imported by the government and 3.87 million tonnes by the private sector since July 13 last year till April this year.

But this stock is insufficient to meet the demand, experts said.

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