A change for the better

Ahmed Shatil Alam reveals how and why most Bangladeshis are shifting from rice to tortillas for lunch and dinner

XTRA cover on rice

IT WAS his usual habit to have rice in every morning before going to his workplace, but since January, Nur Alam — a 30 year old cab driver — stopped eating rice as its price has been increasing almost in every month. Recently, roti (bread) — made of wheat — has occupied his breakfast menu instead of rice. Talking to New Age Xtra, he shares that he also replaced rice by roti for his lunch and dinner to cope up with the continuous price hike of rice. ‘Me and my wife including other four family members, are following the same routine for last six months, this is how I have been able to save some money in every month’ he says. He says that by changing to roti from rice he has been saving around Tk 1000 each month.

Talking to New Age Xtra, hotel and restaurant owners from different areas of Dhaka city shared that many of their customers have started eating roti at lunch instead of rice to lessen their lunch cost. In Dhaka, a large number of people, mostly office-workers and working class people, take lunch at the hotels and restaurants, while some also take dinner. The hotel owners or managers share with New Age Xtra that in recent days the popularity of roti during lunch has increased significantly, while the consumption of roti made of wheat usually dominates at the dinner platters.

Manager of Malibagh based Abul Hotel, Shamsur Rahman says, ‘Although the consumption of rice is still at the top place during lunch time, but roti has been popular among my customers’. He also shares that in last few months, he has purchased both wheat and flour more than any previous recent year. Meanwhile, Motijheel based Gharoa and Mirpur based Rabbani hotel authorities share the same thought as well.

Talking to New Age Xtra, Shahnewaj Alif, manager of Gharoa restaurant, shares that a person need to spend around at least Tk 200 or above to have a lunch with rice and two more items, but instead of that if anyone picks roti then it would cost nearly Tk 100 or little more. Their customers are mainly service holders.

Although these hotels are popular to the middle class and lower middle class people, some road side hotel owners in Mirpur, Farmgate, Banglamotor and Shegunbagicha area share the same scenarios with New Age Xtra. Rahima, who used to sell roti and vegetable at Karwan Bazaar area, shares that since the last few months some new customers have started to come to her street side shop where they can have three roti and a vegetable item for Tk 30 only. ‘In hotels a plate of rice costs at least Tk 15 and if anyone needs more rice then it would cost up to Tk 30…therefore, roti became popular’ she says.

While, many people showing interest in roti for economical issues, at the same time some people started taking it instead of rice due to health concerns. Such as Jubair Islam, an NGO worker living in Chittagong city, started taking roti instead of rice as he has been diagnosed with diabetics four months back. He says, ‘I got the disease a bit early and therefore I left eating rice with the consultation of doctor’.

For both economical and health reasons, the food habits among many Bangladeshis have started to change. According to Trading Corporation of Bangladesh’s daily price monitoring chart of May 23, the price of all types of rice has significantly increased while the price of wheat and flour either dropped or stood still in last one year in the markets around the country. The chart shows that in last one year the price of rice has been increased up to 42.19 per cent, while the price of wheat falls down to around six per cent.

rolled-maida-balls

As per the chart and visiting several markets around the city, New Age Xtra has found that the prices of various types of rice on May 23 were Tk 45 to Tk 56 per kg, while the price of per kg wheat was from Tk 24 to Tk 32.

The price of per kg coarse rice- increased up to Tk 46 while in May of 2016 it was Tk 30, the price of fine rice was recorded as Tk 56 which was Tk 44 in previous year. On the other side, the price of per kg wheat has declined to Tk 32 in this year from Tk 34 in previous year, while per kg flour price remain unchanged as Tk 42 in this year.

Talking to New Age Xtra the Chittagong port officials and wheat importers share that due to the availability of wheat at market, the price of wheat and flour has fallen or remained the same as previous year. In fact the import of wheat has drastically increased in last few months following the huge demand of wheat-made products.

According to the Chittagong Port data, until March of this year, around 44 lakh tonnes of wheat was imported in 2016-2017 fiscal year, which is higher than the earlier year. While another data from Department of Agricultural Extension shows that this year more than 14 lakh tonnes of locally produced wheat will be available at the local market.

Among the imported wheat, majority are added with a protein level of 10 to 11 per cent and these type of wheat is mostly imported from Ukraine and are mostly consumed by the lower income people, found by New Age Xtra after analysing the import data.

Talking to New Age Xtra, Chittagong based wheat importer and BSM group Chairman Abul Bashar Chowdhury said that for several reasons people are becoming interested to have wheat-made products, therefore the import of wheat has increased. He pointed out three reasons — price hike of rice, growth of fast food and restaurant businesses and the suitable price of wheat at the international market. ‘Varieties of food items can be made by wheat and this triggered the booming of restaurant business especially at urban area of the country’ he said.

He also informed that experiencing the boost of wheat sell at local market many businessmen are now getting interested to import. ‘In last two years around six more importers had joined the queue of importing wheat from foreign countries like Ukraine, Canada, Russia, Argentina etc’, he says.

The rice is dominating the total food expenditure, as Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics estimates that wheat and wheat flour purchases constitute 1.5 per cent of the total food expenditures and remain low compared to the rice purchases with a 31.03 per cent. However, wheat has the feature to be the most important second food in Bangladesh by constituting almost 12 percent of total grain consumption.

This change of food habit, however, is welcomed by the nutritionists as they think that in this way the over consumption of rice by Bangladeshi people would decrease. Subsequently, it would also increase the balanced diet practice among Bangladeshi people and decrease the diseases related with over consumption of rice.

According to a Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics data, the average per capita rice intake per day by Bangladeshi residents is 416 gram, while the required rice should be 360 grams. The data shows the lower intake of wheat consumption as well, as per the data the desirable wheat intake should be 50 grams by per person per day, while currently it remains at 26 gram. Meanwhile, Food and Agricultural Organisation data showed that Bangladesh stands at the top rice eating countries and annual per capita rice consumption in Bangladesh was 163 kg.

Former director of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Sciences at University of Dhaka, professor Golam Mawla says, ‘The consumption of rice should be reduced among the Bangladeshi residents and instead of this, people could start taking wheat made foods as roti, paratha etc’. The over consumption of rice could affect people with many diseases; meanwhile wheat could help the people to become fit, he shares.