Mahfuja Mukul: In the last 62 years, there has been a record production of salt in the country. Even so, the Ministry of Industry is afraid of salt shortage due to the continuous increase in demand. That is why the decision to import salt has been taken. There has been mixed reaction among farmers, stockholders and mill owners on the issue. Some believe that this decision will have a negative impact on the self-sufficient sector.
According to the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BCIC) data, 22 lakh 33 thousand metric tons of salt has been produced in 2023. Commercial salt farming has never produced so much salt in the last 62 years. In the last year 2022, the most 18 lakh 15 thousand 156 metric tons of salt was produced.
However, the production of salt is less than the demand. Because of this, on November 7, the Ministry of Commerce has approved the import of 100,000 tons of salt to 264 companies. The reason for the import is said to be that due to natural reasons, the salt production season has started at least 15 days later. This step has been taken as a precaution.
The salt farmers are angry with this decision. They say that the salt that is currently stored with the farmers and stockists at the field level will last till December. Meanwhile, the new production season starts from November. Farmers are also preparing for production. In this situation, the farmers will suffer due to the import permit, which will have a negative impact on the industry in the long run.
Cox’s Bazar Salt Farmers and Traders Struggle Council claims that there are currently around five lakh tons of salt in stock. So, there is no fear of any shortage till December. Currently, the price of salt per maund
in Cox’s Bazar is around Tk 550. As the salt market is fine, the cultivation land and cultivator can also increase this time.
However, using the opportunity of the August supply cut, the millers showed the crisis and cut back on imports. Mohammad Shahidullah, convener of Cox’s Bazar Salt Farmers and Traders Sangam Parishad said, “Mill owners have given permission to import BSIC by showing artificial crisis. As a result, farmers will be discouraged from producing salt this season, which will have a big impact.
To argue in favor of import, the mill owners say that the supply of salt from the fields was stopped last August due to natural calamities. As a result, there is a shortage of salt over demand. Besides, the price of unrefined salt has increased at the field level, there is also a crisis. So importing is the right decision.
The only product produced in the country is salt, with which the entire country is self-sufficient. It is produced in some parts of Banshkhali and Cox’s Bazar in South Chittagong of the country. But most of the production is in Cox’s Bazar. November to May is the salt season. Now the next season’s salt production has started.
Sarwar Hossain, Deputy General Manager of Bisic Head Office and Head of Salt Cell said, “There was a deficit of 155,000 tons between production and demand. This year the demand was 23 lakh 88 thousand tons.
He said, “At the beginning of this season, the season was delayed by 15 days due to Cyclone Hamun in the first week of November. The decision to import has been taken as a precautionary measure and to ensure uninterrupted supply and price control.
The mill owners dismissed the complaints of the farmers. They say that some hoarders named Chashi are doing monopoly business in Cox’s Bazar. In the space of one month, the price of a bag of salt (unrefined 80 kg) of Tk 1200 has increased by Tk 1300. Government should ensure competition in the market. If not, the price of refined salt may increase further.
In this regard, President of Salt Mill Owners Association Nurul Kabir said, ‘Salt will not be fully produced before January-February. Besides, hoarders are syndicating in Cox’s Bazar. They are forced to buy salt at a fixed rate. As a result, the price of unrefined salt increased from Tk 600 to Tk 1200. In the space of one month, it has increased by Tk 100 and now it is selling more than Tk 1300. Importing this salt will not harm the farmers. Because now the salt is in the hands of hoarders.
The salt production season is observed from November 15 to May 15 every year. However, apart from the higher price of salt produced in the field throughout the year, due to the increase in various government facilities, the farmers have taken to the field to produce salt in advance. At the same time, the extent of cultivation, the number of salt cultivators and mauzas also increased. The target of salt production in the current (2023-24) financial year has been fixed at 25 lakh 28 thousand tonnes, which was 23 lakh 85 thousand tonnes in the last season.
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