The government will purchase 50 per cent more paddy from farmers in the Boro harvesting season that begins from the latter half of this month with the view to encouraging farmers and for distribution to those who saw their livelihoods evaporate for the outbreak of coronavirus in Bangladesh.
Some six lakh tonnes of paddy would be purchased as well as 10 lakh tonnes of parboiled rice and 1.50 lakh tonnes of un-boiled grain from millers in the ensuing season, which yields more than half of the total annual rice output.
The government, however, has kept purchase prices unchanged: Tk 26 for each kilogram of paddy and Tk 36 for a kg of rice, according to an announcement by food ministry on its website.
The procurement price of un-boiled rice has been fixed at Tk 35 per kg.
The disclosure comes at a time when the government has ramped up distribution and sales of the cereal to cut the risk of hunger among the poor and low-income people, whose income has dried up for the countrywide shutdown enforced on March 26 with the hope of flattening the curve on the deadly pathogen.
At the time of writing, the lethal, pneumonia-like virus has infected 164 and claimed the lives of 17. Bangladesh appears to be just ascending the epidemiological curve, so the movement control order is likely to be extended beyond April 14.
Since March 26, the disaster management ministry distributed 56,500 tonnes of rice for distribution among the poor and the vulnerable; it sought allocation of an additional three lakh tonnes of the staple grain from the finance ministry.
Until Monday, the disaster management ministry got consent for one lakh tonnes of rice, said an official.
Besides, the Directorate General of Food has started selling rice at Tk 10 a kg under a special open market sale scheme designed to help the urban poor get the staple at one-fourth the market price.
The government had 16.95 lakh tonnes of food grains, including 13.87 lakh tonnes of rice, in its stock until March 24, according to data from the food ministry.
"We have decided to purchase increased quantity of rice to build a good food stock to enhance overall food security," said Food Secretary Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum.
The purchase decision and prices, which have been fixed based on discussions with the food and agriculture ministers as well as the cabinet secretary, come amid the higher production target of rice.
"Coronavirus is also a factor," Khanum said.
Preliminary data from the Department of Agricultural Extension showed that farmers planted rice on 47.54 lakh hectares during the current boro season, which is marginally lower than last year's actual acreage, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
Matindra Sarker, a farmer in the northeastern district of Netrakona, praised the government's decision to buy good increased amount of paddy and called for a fair and transparent procurement system.
"The crop looks good so far. Now the question remains whether we will get profitable prices," he said over phone.
In addition to buying rice, the food ministry also plans to buy 70 per cent higher wheat than last season at 75,000 tonnes this year.
The government would buy the grain at Tk 28 a kg. Wheat procurement will begin from next week, according to the food ministry notice.