‘Spice prices will decrease again when imports increase to the regular levels’

Over the last few weeks, an increase in demand has triggered hikes in spice prices across the board at Khatunganj wholesale market, the largest commodity hub in Chittagong.

According to spice traders, the cause for the increased demand and resultant hike in prices was a large number of weddings being held at this time of year, as well as shopping for the holy Eid-e-Miladunnabi.

Amal Saha, one such spice trader at Khatunganj wholesale market, said: “It is not unusual for the demand for spices to increase in winter. As is known, this is a season for weddings in Bangladesh. Spice traders usually increase imports ahead of time to deal with this soaring demand, but the imports were hindered this year.”

He added that the problems included traders importing lower quantities of spices as the prolonged monsoon made storage difficult, as well as a large stock of spices having already been spoiled due to water logging at the commodity hub. Consumers had to pay higher prices during Eid-ul-Azha for these very same reasons.

“Spice prices will decrease again when imports increase to the regular levels,” Amal said.

During a recent visit to various shops at Khatunganj wholesale market, cumin was found to be selling at Tk367 per kg, Tk20 higher than two weeks ago. Varieties of the spice imported from India were selling at Tk365 per kg, Tk15 higher than last week.

In addition, black pepper is currently selling at Tk520 per kg, clove at Tk860, cardamom at Tk1,170, cinnamon at Tk198, nutmeg at Tk470, and mace at Tk1,290.

Furthermore, coriander seeds are selling at Tk68-70 per kg, methi at Tk65, mustard seeds at Tk 62, local turmeric at Tk 118, and turmeric imported from India at Tk120.

Sources from among the traders also said a huge quantity of spices had to be imported in order to meet local demand. While the lion’s share of the spices are imported through land ports from India, 12 spice items, including garlic, ginger, turmeric and cumin, are imported from over 24 other countries through Chittagong Seaport.

These other counties comprise China, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Colombia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Syria, Singapore, Guatemala, Madagascar, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the UAE, among others.

According to data provided by Chittagong port, 182,000 tons of spices, worth Tk 1,736 crore, were imported through the seaport in the fiscal year 2016-17, a 21% increase compared to FY2015-16.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), the country’s sole watchdog for consumer rights, bemoaned the fact that a section of dishonest traders were involved in bumping up spice prices artificially.

CAB central committee Vice President SM Nazer Hossain told the Dhaka Tribune that the government should intensify monitoring of the commodity market to keep a tab on the prices of essential commodities, including spices.