Dhaka has always had the unenviable position of having some of the highest cost of living in the world, even before the pandemic. 

With several lock downs in 2020 and 2021, the price of goods and food have risen worldwide but in Dhaka, it is now astronomically high and will soon be out of reach for the middle class. 

With prices of broiler chicken going up this past week, frequent hikes in chicken feed prices indicate that prices may go up even further, adding further to the woes of the middle class.

According to vendors, it witnessed a steep increase of Tk40-45 per kilogram. Now it is being sold at Tk175-180 per kg, up from Tk135-145 per kg a month ago.

According to Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), it recorded a 19.64% rise in a month.

Visiting several wet markets in the capital, including Karwan Bazar, Hatirpool, Palashi and New Market, both retailers and consumers delivered mixed reactions to the hike.

“My family mainly eats chicken as a source of protein. My children would much rather eat chicken than fish and the prices going up is really worrying me,” said Mohabbat Hossain, a private service holder.

“Buying beef or mutton is a costly affair for people like me. Chicken was more affordable, but not anymore,” he said. 

Another consumer, Laboni Talukder, from Shahjahanpur, said: “Broiler chicken now cost Tk180 per kg, although a few days back it was Tk150-165, and Tk120-130 a month ago. Continuous price rise will affect us, and mostly our children.”

She urged the government to put an end to such price hikes as the country was supposedly self-reliant in protein sources.

In June, Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) released a report that last year expenses shot up in the capital, like every other country, resulting in the cost of living going up by 6.88%, the highest in the last three years.

This increase was 6.50% and 6.08% respectively in 2019, and 6.0% and 5.19% respectively in 2018.

The report also said that inflation went up by 6.31%.

CAB collected data from the capital’s retail markets and relevant services in 2020 on 114 food items, 22 daily-consumed goods, 15 retail markets, and consumer-based services.

Why chicken prices are rising

Due to soybean meal import to neighboring India, which is poultry feed, prices soared for local broiler chicken, sellers claimed.

Earlier, Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Ihtesham B Shahjahan, president of Feed Industries Association of Bangladesh (Fiab), said: “The decision to export soybean meal and the increment of the price by Tk10-12 to Tk53-55 per kg has pushed poultry farmers to a crisis.”

It is important to stop soybean meal exports to ensure food security and protect the country’s farmers, he added.

The government has given the opportunity to the oil companies to import soybean seeds at zero import duty.

Currently, the domestic feed millers can procure 70% – 80% of soybean meal locally and import the rest.

Retailers also alleged that the producers allegedly created an artificial crisis in the market by reducing the supply of soybean meal.

Naimul Islam Shipon, a broiler chicken retailer at Hatirpool, said: “Poultry farmers buy feeds at Tk200-400 a sack, which is much higher than the usual, causing broiler chicken prices to go up.”

If the feed prices rising trend continues, broiler chicken prices will shoot up again. There is enough demand for broiler chicken, he added.

The trader also hinted that the prices may hit Tk190-195per kg in the coming days.

According to industry insiders, prices of various elements in the feed industry have gone up by 34-35%.

Poultry growers on Saturday placed 11 demands including access to easy and soft loans for the root-level poultry farmers through the stimulus package and checking the illogical price hike of poultry feeds and chicks.

BPIF leader M Mamun said: “The poultry industry was experiencing a severe crisis due to recent increase in the price of its raw materials, including feeds and chicks.”

“If the underlying feed issues are not being fixed, broiler chicken, dairy and beef prices may go up and regular people won’t be able to afford them anymore. It will impact the whole system.”

Price hike affecting the middle class

Experts at a webinar on Saturday highlighted that the middle class were now more focused on meeting their daily needs, rather than on social or political development, especially due to the pandemic.

But continuous price hikes are pinning them down, they added.

These issues came up in the discussion titled ” Turning Point of Society: Where has the Middle Class Gone” organized by the PPRC.

SM Nazer Hossain, vice president of Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), told Dhaka Tribune: “Increasing the price of daily essentials always affects the middle class badly because they are confined within a fixed income. For them, a slight increase of even Tk4-5 is a big matter.”

Earlier, edible oil, sugar, and eggs price hikes suffered mostly middle-class and low-income group people. 

But owing to the recent hike, even chicken will be beyond their reach. This will especially deprive the children from protein consumption, he added.

Prof Muhammad Shahadat Hossain Siddiquee, an economics faculty at the University of Dhaka (DU) said: “Due to the pandemic, the middle class sustained for a long period of time without any financial support. Many have also lost their jobs. Spiralling commodity prices such as chicken only adds to that misery.”

The government has provided them with open marker sale (OMS) trucks, which sell essential products at subsidized rates, but even that is not adequate in supply, he added.

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