Zarif Mahmud: The abnormal price of potatoes in the market due to the manipulation of cold stores and stockists is the report of the Directorate of Agricultural Marketing, a government agency. The agency submitted the report to the Ministry of Agriculture last July. After that, another round of meeting was held in the Prime Minister’s office that month after the news was published in the media. Information about illegal hoarders has also been passed on to other law enforcement agencies, including the Directorate General of Defense Intelligence (DGFI). Still no action was taken. Because of that, for more than two months, common people have to buy potatoes at abnormally high prices. And the syndicate remains out of touch.
It is known that the report submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture on July 10 regarding the supply and price increase of potatoes in Bangladesh recommended that unscrupulous traders should be controlled through various government supervisory agencies and police administration due to their attempts to artificially destabilize the potato market.
According to the report, the production cost of potato per kg in the current season is Tk 10.50. Farmers have sold these potatoes in the market for a maximum of Tk 15. Now (July) 24 lakh 92 thousand tons of potatoes are stored in 365 cold storages of the country. After the farmers run out of potatoes, supplies of cold storage potatoes start arriving in the market from June. But this supply is not being done properly. A class of unscrupulous traders are artificially increasing the price of potatoes. Meanwhile, cold storage owners are releasing insufficient quantity of potatoes in the market compared to the demand.
It is known that this year potato production in the country is 1 crore 11 lakh tonnes, while the local demand is 90 lakh tonnes. Despite the overproduction of about 2.2 lakh tonnes of potatoes against the demand, the price has increased abnormally. But at the wholesale level, the price of potatoes is not supposed to be more than Tk 24, which will be sold up to Tk 32 at the retail level. Although potatoes are now being sold at a minimum price of Tk 40 per kg in the market. Sometimes potatoes have to be bought at Tk 50 per kg.
A month and a half has passed since that report was given. Market information says that no operation has been conducted to control the price of potatoes in any market of the country, and no monitoring has been seen in any cold store. Among them, there are some operations in the market to control the price of eggs, but the market control organizations have ignored the potato.
Talked to Masood Karim, Director General of Agriculture Marketing Department. He told Daily Industry that the report was prepared because the price of potatoes in the market was increasing abnormally after last Eid. But agricultural marketing has nothing to do with market price control. It is the job of another agency of the government. It has been communicated to those institutions. But I am not aware that any action has been taken.
Reza Shahbaz Hadi, senior agricultural marketing officer of the Directorate of Agricultural Marketing, said that a meeting was also held in the presence of the Chief Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office. He told Daily Industry, ‘After submitting the report of the Ministry of Agriculture, it came to the press. Then a meeting was held on July 31 at the PM office (Prime Minister’s office). We have briefed where the excess potato storage is. DGFI also came and took the information. After that, there was no further action.
Additional Secretary of PPC Division Ruhul Amin Talukder supervised the report submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture. In response to the question whether any action has been taken by the ministry to prevent the syndicate, he did not comment on this.
Meanwhile, the National Directorate of Consumer Rights Protection and Competition Commission, organizations under the control of the Ministry of Commerce, work to control unstable product prices in the market. The two agencies have not received any monitoring instructions or reports regarding the supply and price hike of potatoes.
AHM Safikuzzaman, director general of the National Consumer Rights Protection Directorate, told, “How will any organization take action?” If any authority gives the information of any syndicate, then of course we do not have that system. No such report has come to us. Maybe it got stuck in the middle for some reason.
He said, “There is no need to give responsibility to one-sided market control agencies. Agriculture Marketing has its own Magistrate. They can also operate mobile courts in the market. Consumer-rights will do everything, so other organizations have no responsibility? What is the use of sitting at home with any findings? I heard about that report for the first time.
Meanwhile, regarding the reluctance of government supervision in the potato market, a government official told on condition of anonymity, “Despite knowing the syndicate (syndicate information), no action was taken in the potato market because the cold store traders are quite influential.” Some are representing top organizations of businessmen, they are now in meetings and seminars with different quarters of the government to control the prices of other products in the market.
However, when contacted immediately after the publication of the report, Bangladesh Cold Storage Association, an organization of cold storage owners, claimed that there is a lack of information in the report. According to the organization, the information given by the government about potato production this year is not correct. 20 to 22 percent less production than this. Last year, all the cold storages were full, but this year there is up to 20 percent shortage of potatoes. The potato which is in the hands of the farmer till June, is finished in April.
As of July, 60 percent of the potatoes in cold storage were edible and 40 percent were seed potatoes. Out of this 60 percent, 10 percent belong to cold storage owners, 10 percent to farmers and the remaining 40 percent to stockers (stockers). Hoarders are affecting the market by reducing production. They are releasing less potatoes in the market, making extra profit. It does not involve the owners of cold stores.
Cold Storage Association President Mostafa Azad Chowdhury Babu told at that time, “First of all, as much as the potato production is mentioned in the report, this year it has not been produced as much.” Refrigeration owners are not responsible for reducing supply.
He said, ‘Those who have stocked potatoes are giving less potatoes than the demand in the market. Again, they are selling potatoes from cold storage at Tk 30-31 per kg depending on the quality. They are earning Tk 12 to Tk 13 per kg. This is the reason for the instability in the market. It is not the owners of cold stores, but those who have stockpiles who have destabilized the market.
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