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BD opts to explore alt-sources for wheat import

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Bangladesh has opted to explore alternative overseas sources to meet demands for wheat, even with higher cost, as the war between Russia and Ukraine blocked ways for import of the country’s second major staple from these two wheat-producing nations.

“Presently we are getting no wheat from Russia and Ukraine, a situation which prompted us to allow private sector to explore new sources even if it cost a bit high,” said a food ministry official, entrusted with the task of overseeing food imports.

Mahbubur Rahman added that so far the private importers signed deals for importing 6.5 lakh tons of wheat, Bangladesh’s second major staple, from Bulgaria, Romania and even from Russia and under their agreements “Bangladesh by now received 3.13 lakh tons”.

“We expect the rest of the volume to come by end of December this year,” he said.

Bangladesh’s domestic average annual wheat production is around 10 lakh (1 million) tons against the demand for 75 lakh tons and 62pc of the imported wheat come from Russia, Ukraine and India.

Food ministry officials said, India too stopped exporting wheat in view of the global crisis to ensure their domestic food security.

After the outbreak of the war, Russia had stopped its wheat exports across the world but temporarily eased the restriction in principle under which Bangladesh received a consignment of one lakh ton in May this year.

Bangladesh last received 46,655 tons of Ukrainian wheat in May this year.

“From then on no wheat was available from either of the countries,” an official familiar with the situation said.

The officials comments came as the wheat price was increasing steadily in the past several months affecting the prices of bakery items including flour.

Food officials said Russian and Ukrainian wheat were used to be exported in much cheaper prices while India was providing it in lowest price but the situation forced Bangladesh to look for the staple in other countries including Canada.

The average per tonne wheat price in the international market on November 9 was US$353.67 which was $258.68 around the year in 2021.

Wheat importers said enhanced wheat prices in the international market exposed them to a challenge while the devaluation of Bangladesh currency has aggravated the crisis.

Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder, meanwhile, said the government by now took all necessary steps to boost up the domestic food supply through raising import and food procurement to prevent any pandemic-like situation amid the current global crisis.

“Bangladesh is ready to overcome the food scarcity beefing up food supply through import and local procurement while the world economy is facing a catastrophe due to prolonged Russia-Ukraine war,” he told.

HE added, “But as part of food security precautions, we have laid emphasis as well on rice procurement (alongside wheat) from abroad and intensify vigil against hoarding with profiteering motive.”

The minister said several vigilance teams were formed with the ministry officials to enforce the vigil in different food markets across the country so none could create an artificial food crisis.

He said to beef up the food stock the government approved 10 lakh tons of rice imports while over 5.50 lakh tons already arrived and the rest 4.50 lakh tons will reach by the yearend.

Food officials said since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, imports fell to rock bottom while the country’s overall food grain stock in the public sector now stood at over 15.83 lakh tons — over 13.64 lakh tons of rice, over 2.10 lakh tons of wheat and 12,074 tons of paddy.

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Remal Ravages Crops in Khulna Agricultural Zone, Losses Estimated at Tk 180.24cr

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Cyclone Remal has inflicted severe damage on crops across 45,590 hectares of land in the Khulna agricultural zone, causing losses worth Tk 180.24 crore, as reported by the Directorate of Agricultural Extension (DAE) in Khulna.

According to Mohon Kumar Ghosh, Additional Director of the DAE Khulna Zone, 44,148.95 hectares of farmland suffered partial damage, while 1,450.90 hectares were completely destroyed in the four affected districts: Khulna, Bagerhat, Satkhira, and Narail.

In Khulna district, Cyclone Remal affected 3,565.65 hectares of cropland belonging to 13,796 farmers, resulting in losses estimated at Tk 42.98 crore. Bagerhat district witnessed damage to 12,611.50 hectares of cropland from 39,465 farmers, with losses amounting to Tk 97.36 crore. In Satkhira, 659.7 hectares of cropland owned by 12,156 farmers were affected, incurring losses of Tk 24.42 crore. Narail saw damage to 28,763 hectares of cropland from 8,620 farmers, with estimated losses of Tk 15.47 crore.

Speaking to BSS, Mohon Kumar Ghosh highlighted the extensive damage caused by Cyclone Remal to the southern coastal areas, particularly croplands. The affected crops include jute, Aush seedbed, aush cultivated land, groundnut, chili, bona Aman, ginger, turmeric, summer melon, litchi, mango, papaya, betel nut, sugarcane, banana, winter maize, sesame, and various Kharif season vegetables such as tomato, mung bean, and banana.

Following directives from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, efforts are being made to support the affected farmers. “We are working tirelessly to help the helpless farmers recover their losses,” Ghosh said, adding that the government is providing incentives and regular counseling and supervision at the field level to aid recovery.

In the coming months, the affected farmers will continue to receive various forms of government support to mitigate the impact of Cyclone Remal.

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Govt Plans 10% Annual Growth in Agriculture by 2025-26

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The Bangladesh government has allocated Tk 385 billion for agricultural development over the next three years, aiming for an average annual growth of 10% in the sector by the 2025-26 fiscal year. This investment underscores agriculture’s crucial role in ensuring food security and driving equitable economic growth, according to the ‘Medium Term Macroeconomic Policy Statement (2023-24 to 2025-26)’.

Despite its declining share in GDP, agriculture remains vital for the livelihoods of the majority, especially in rural areas. To enhance food production and resilience against challenges, the government’s strategy includes developing high-yield and adversity-tolerant crop varieties, expanding mechanization and irrigation, and improving access to affordable inputs such as seeds and fertilizers.

The policy document highlights various initiatives aimed at modernizing agriculture through technology. These include prioritizing surface water over groundwater for irrigation to conserve resources, integrating renewable energy solutions, and utilizing remote sensing for crop monitoring.

The government continues to support the sector through subsidies, financial incentives, and technological innovations to establish a sustainable and self-reliant agricultural framework.

The fisheries and livestock sub-sectors also make significant contributions, accounting for 2.53% and 1.91% of GDP, respectively, while providing essential protein sources and livelihoods for over 12% of the population. Achievements in these areas include achieving self-sufficiency in fish, meat, and egg production, with milk production expected to follow suit. Moreover, these sectors play a crucial role in foreign exchange earnings through exports.

Looking ahead, the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries plans to launch development projects to enhance production capacities, adopt advanced management technologies, and improve conservation efforts, particularly for young hilsa fish (‘jatka’).

Water resource management is another focal point, given its importance for sustainable agriculture. Initiatives are underway to improve surface water availability by excavating water bodies and enhancing coastal afforestation to secure equitable water shares from transboundary rivers.

With climate change posing significant economic risks, projected to reduce GDP by 6.8% by 2030, the government has prioritized comprehensive strategies to mitigate these impacts. The Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan aims to equip vulnerable sectors and communities with tools to enhance resilience and stability against climate-related disruptions.

Through these multifaceted efforts, Bangladesh is taking decisive steps to safeguard and advance its agricultural heritage amidst evolving global challenges.

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IFC Invests $30mn in PRAN to Bolster Bangladesh’s Food Industry

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The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is investing US$30 million in Pran Dairy Limited (PDL) and Habiganj Agro Limited (HAL), both part of the PRAN Group, a leading player in the food and beverage industry (F&B) in Bangladesh. This investment aims to support severely impacted businesses, particularly those reliant on imports for raw materials. The goal is to enhance the resilience of the food processing market, create jobs, foster gender diversity, and strengthen the economy.

This marks the first time IFC’s USD term loans will be utilized for working capital purposes in Bangladesh. These funds will enable PDL and HAL to sustain their operations, increase exports, and preserve over 30,000 jobs, as stated in a press release today. Additionally, IFC will assist PRAN Group in enhancing women’s participation and inclusion in the workplace through relevant policies and practices. The F&B sector plays a crucial role in Bangladesh’s economy, accounting for about 13 percent of manufacturing production value and employing 19 percent of the industrial manufacturing workforce, with a projected compound annual growth rate of 12 percent.

However, challenges such as foreign exchange shortages, high energy prices, and power shortages have disrupted the import of raw materials and constrained local commercial banks’ lending capacity. In response, IFC’s longer-term US dollar financing aims to improve access to foreign exchange, helping Bangladeshi companies navigate the crisis.

Uzma Chowdhury, director (Finance) of PRAN-RFL Group, emphasized the importance of regular access to US dollars for a net importer like PRAN Group. Given the current shortage, accessing USD funds for working capital has been challenging. IFC’s provision of scarcely available US dollar working capital will ensure the long-term stability of the company’s operations and contribute to the country’s economic stability.

As part of its advisory services, IFC will also support PRAN Group in developing the company’s smallholder sourcing supply chain in Bangladesh and identifying opportunities to decarbonize its agro-processing operations, among other initiatives.

Martin Holtmann, IFC country manager for Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal, reiterated IFC’s commitment to supporting clients during crises. He stated that IFC’s financing aims to alleviate the lack of access to foreign exchange while promoting private sector growth in Bangladesh. This investment is expected to enhance food security, prioritize support for strategically important industries, diversify Bangladesh’s export base, create jobs, expand market opportunities, and enhance economic resilience.

Since 2010, IFC has invested over US$3.8 billion to help the private sector grow in Bangladesh.

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