World heading for harder times

| Updated: May 16, 2022 22:28:36

World heading for harder times

This is crunch time. It has been made even more volatile by an outrageous profiteering motive of businesspeople the world over. The latest to join the agents of worsening situation is the Russia-Ukraine war. Now what are the agents triggering a precipitous decline in an already unnerved and weakened economic order? Apparently, the fuel oils which registered a record plunge in prices during the pandemic are the prime villains. This is so because the petroleum producing and exporting countries and companies are out not only to make up for the loss sustained due to business slump during the pandemic but also to make the most of the rising demand now.

 However those in control of production and market of the most essential commodities are not lagging behind; rather they are using the higher price of fuel as a ruse to unrelentingly raise prices of consumer goods to irrational levels. The low- and middle-income groups everywhere have fallen victim to this artificially engineered price escalation. Most governments generously gave stimulus packages to big businesses for recovering from pandemic-time business slump and in some cases losses. Some granted subsidies and food aid to the poor but all these fail to match the inflation.

Global inflation was pushed to its highest level --- according to the World Vision, 40 per cent --- in 2021 since 2008. It was because of the rush to return back to normal business as quickly as possible and if possible make profit at rates that would more than compensate for the slump-time non-profit or losses. If the rush was tempered with consideration for the millions of people who had lost jobs and means of income on account of the pandemic, the market volatility could be rationally be reined in. Now a free-for-all situation is reigning in the market.

The situation has led to further chaotic market behaviour with the start of the Russia-Ukraine war. Food and fuel prices have skyrocketed to even higher levels than before because of supply-chain disruptions. Both Russia and Ukraine have long been reliable big exporters of gas, oil, coal, fertiliser, wheat, corn and seed oil. The two countries were the main suppliers of wheat to several European, Middle-east and African countries. Now because of war and embargo, the supply of these commodities has been severely disrupted. Here is a genuine reason for crises of those items.

Instead of helping their governments tide over the situation, business communities in many countries are going for dubious means to make the most of the situation. A shining (read villainous) example is the sudden disappearance of cooking oils (soybean and palm) from Bangladesh market. First traders hiked prices of these oils by means of an arm-twisting strategy and then resorted to unethical business practice of hiding their stocks. The arm-twisting method was once again applied to force the government to approve an irrational price rise close to Tk 200 a litre of soybean oil. But the oil is from a stock imported well before Indonesia slapped a ban on the item's export and the Ukraine war had an impact on supply.

Before the Eid-ul-Fitr, the business machination could be considered the annual malpractice this country routinely experiences but belying all expectations the market is once again jittery. This time the target seems to be onion and spices, perhaps keeping an eye on the Eid-ul-Adha when the demand for such items goes up.

Clearly, the pandemic has failed to leave a sobering lesson of humanity on the mankind. Butcher-like profit mongering has been pushing more and more people to the fringe. When many people's fortunes are on a tailspin, the rich and the privileged are in a competition for grabbing unearned hefty benefits. The result is that more than 950 million people in the world cannot manage foods, let alone healthy foods.

Bangladesh is not immediately under threat. But reports of loss of standing crops in haor areas and now the rain-ruined harvest of Boro paddy all across the country is giving a fresh cause for concern. Ripe paddy cannot be harvested because of a lack of labour. This is intriguing, indeed. The nation's staple, after a bumper yield, cannot be stored in farmers' barns when many people have been rendered jobless. There is no crop insurance for farmers and what it means to lose the main crop for farmers no one can fully imagine. If farmers themselves starve or cannot protect the surplus yield, the entire nation will have to heavily pay for it. A grim reality of crop failure!


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