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USDA GAIN: Oilseeds, Cotton, Sugar, Grain and Feed

28 March 2013

USDA GAIN: Wheat Milling in Bangladesh - March 2013USDA GAIN: Wheat Milling in Bangladesh - March 2013

While Bangladesh is a predominantly rice-consuming country, wheat is the second-most important food staple, accounting for about 12 percent of total cereal consumption. Domestic wheat production has currently stabilized at around 1 million metric tons a year, but with an annual demand exceeding 4 million tons, the Bangladesh wheat market is reliant on imports. The private sector accounts for up to 75 percent of Bangladesh wheat imports. Modern roller mills are gradually replacing traditional “chakki” mills, and with a growing export-oriented food processing sector, Bangladesh is an emerging market for higher protein wheat.
USDA GAIN Report - Oilseeds, Cotton, Sugar, Grain and Feed

Bangladesh is a predominantly rice-consuming country. Prior to independence in 1971, wheat was virtually absent from the Bangladesh market. The Bengal Famine of 1943 encouraged a “grow-more-food” campaign, but wheat cultivation did not really begin to develop until after 1965, after Dr. Norman Borlaug and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) successfully introduced two Mexican wheat varieties (Sonora 64 and Penjamo 62) into northern Bangladesh. The success of the CIMMYT program, however, was disrupted by the war with Pakistan. A severe drought in 1973, followed by major floods in 1974, also led to widespread food shortages, prompting a massive international emergency relief effort to meet the country’s basic food security needs.

With the influx of food aid shipments, wheat became a regular feature in the Bangladesh diet, particularly among urban consumers seeking to supplement their rice-based diet. But as wheat imports rose to 2.3 million metric tons in 1972/73, the Government of Bangladesh began to institute policies to encourage domestic wheat production. Wheat cultivation quickly expanded around Khulna and the generally less flood-prone areas of the northern and western districts. Harvested area rose from 105,000 hectares in 1974/75 to 591,000 hectares in 1980/81. Wheat yields also increased almost 70 percent, and domestic wheat production grew from 116,000 metric tons in 1974/75 to 1.093 million metric tons in 1980/81.

Bangladesh Wheat Production 1960-2013


In 1998, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) released two heat and disease tolerant wheat varieties (Sourav and Gourab), which increased average wheat yields by more than 20 percent. As harvested area grew to 805,000 hectares in 1999/00, Bangladesh wheat production reached a peak of almost 2 million metric tons. Since then, however, wheat harvested area has declined. In 2012/13, the wheat harvested area in Bangladesh is estimated at 410,000 hectares, or slightly below the 10-year average of 440,000 hectares. While the alluvial soils of Bangladesh are generally very favorable for wheat production, the wheat cropping calendar competes directly with rice, and also increasingly with other remunerative crops like winter vegetables and corn. Wheat is sown in November to mid-January, and is harvested from mid- March to late April.

Competition for very scarce land resources will likely continue to constrain Bangladesh wheat production for the foreseeable future. Without a significant increase in wheat yields, domestic production is likely to remain stable at around 1 million metric tons a year. At the same time, domestic wheat demand in Bangladesh is clearly rising. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the national average per capita daily intake of wheat grew by almost 115 percent between 2005 and 2010. This growth was most pronounced among rural households, which increased their average daily intake of wheat from 8 grams in 2005 to 23.3 grams in 2010 (NOTE: this figure does not include consumption of bread and biscuits) (Report of the Household Income & Expenditure Survey, 2010). A 2012 survey by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies indicated that the national average per capita consumption of wheat flour is now 46 grams per day (83 grams among urban consumers and 25 grams for rural consumers). BBS estimates that wheat and wheat flour purchases account for about 1.5 percent of total food expenditures, significantly less than the 31.03 percent allocated to rice purchases. Still, wheat is the second-most important food staple in Bangladesh, accounting for about 12 percent of total cereal consumption.

With growing wheat demand, Bangladesh is an increasingly active participant in the international market. Over the last decade, wheat imports have doubled, now reaching about 3 million tons a year. Until the early 1990s, virtually all wheat imports were classified as food aid or as government procurement under the Bangladesh Public Food Distribution System. However, since 1991/92, the volume of private sector commercial imports has steadily increased, and now accounts for up to 75 percent of total imports.

Bangladesh Wheat Imports 1971-2013



Bangladesh Wheat Imports by Origin

Source: Global Trade Atlas


Bangladesh Wheat Imports by Type

Source: Ministry of Food and Disaster Management and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics

Wheat Milling in Bangladesh

The Bangladesh wheat milling sector consists of two basic types of flour mills: traditional “chakki” mills and roller mills. “Chakki” mills, often imported from India, are traditional stone-mills powered by a small diesel engine with a milling capacity of 300 to 800 kg per day. These mills generally operate in areas with poor or no access to electricity, providing small quantities of whole-wheat (“atta”) flour on demand to single customers. Traditional “chakki” mills are gradually disappearing, but there are still an estimated 2,000 such mills currently operating in Bangladesh.

Today, most wheat flour produced in Bangladesh (approximately 93 percent) comes from roller mills that are located in or close to urban centers like Dhaka (the industrial area of Narayangang), Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi city. Until the mid-1980s, local roller mills tended to be small with a milling capacity of 10 to 20 metric tons a day. However, today, many of these smaller scale roller mills are no longer operational. The current capacity of most roller mills is now at least 50 tons a day, with several of the more recently constructed facilities capable of milling 300 to 500 tons a day, or more.

The Structure of the Bangladesh Wheat Milling Industry

Source: USDA and industry estimates

Bangladesh wheat mills typically produce one or two grades of “atta,” a semi-hard whole wheat flour that is commonly used to make flat breads like “chapati” and “roti,” and also traditional snacks like “singara” and “puri.” Mills with more sophisticated equipment can produce two or three grades of “maida,” a white all-purpose wheat flour that is used for pastries and loaf-style breads. Depending on the specific technical characteristics of a mill, wheat procurement is increasingly oriented toward optimizing specific end-use objectives. The expansion of fast food restaurants, and a growing export-oriented food processing sector (manufacturing noodles, breads, biscuits, crackers and other snacks), suggests that Bangladesh is an emerging market for higher protein wheat.

March 2013

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