South Asia frets over high food prices

(AFP) -

Ambika Biswas looks at her grocery bag and winces. She is buying food for her family in one of New Delhi's cheapest markets -- yet her grocery costs are far higher than last year.

Her maid's income of 5,000 rupees (104 dollars) a month supports her two teenage children and jobless husband.

"These prices go up and up," Biswas, 54, said disbelievingly as she was shopping for India's most important Hindu festival season.

Across South Asia, the refrain is the same.

"We're getting less and paying more," Biswas said.

Biswas, at least, is relatively well-off in Indian terms with a regular job and employers that help her with extra food and clothes.

But hundreds of millions of India's poorer masses are struggling with having to pay more for food.

"They substitute two meals for one or go without," said Devinder Sharma, who chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security.

Hit by the lowest monsoon rains since 1972 that have left rice, sugar cane and groundnut crops to shrivel under a hot sun, food prices have soared.

Prices for food basics have shot up as a result of the drought which has reduced farm yields, leading to hoarding and speculation, experts say.

"Only 40 percent of India's farm land is irrigated -- 60 percent of farmers rely on the benevolence of the rain gods," said Deepak Lalwani, India director at stockbrokers Astaire and Partners Ltd. in London.

Last week's inflation numbers underscored the impact of the poor rains.

Raw food items were up by more than 16 percent on an annual basis, driven mainly by a 50-percent rise in vegetable prices.

Prices of potatoes were up by 81 percent, sugar was up by 44 percent, pulses were 20 percent higher and rice had risen by 19 percent.

Food inflation "is messing up family budgets because if you spend so much on food you have to cut back on other things," Indian credit rating agency Crisil economist D.K. Joshi said.

The government in its effort to support India's 235 million farmers has pushed up so-called "minimum support prices" to give them better incomes and this too has pushed prices higher.

The government has food distribution programmes to shelter the very poor from the ravages of inflation but massive corruption means a major portion gets siphoned off before it reaches the intended recipients.

India has also raided food commodities hoarders and the government has appealed to consumers not to panic about shortages.

"We're in a situation we can handle" thanks to successive bumper harvests, said Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

But the Food Security Risk Index, prepared by Maplecroft, a British firm that provides risk intelligence for businesses, puts South Asia's three most populous countries -- India, Bangladesh and Pakistan at high risk of food shortages -- and consequently even higher food prices -- down the road.

"India may be one of the world's key emerging economies, but it is finding itself under increasing pressure from food security issues," a Maplecroft report said, citing a drop in land under cultivation and dwindling water resources.

Prices have rocketed not only in India. As Nepal's Hindu religious festivities get under way, Sarita Khanal, 35, said she was struggling to make ends meet as she shopped for seasonal treats.

"Every time I visit a shop, prices are higher," she told AFP.

Nepalese authorities say food prices have risen by more than 30 percent in the past few months alone following a long winter drought and weak monsoon.

India's ban on exports of rice, wheat and lentils as it seeks to protect domestic supplies has exacerbated problems caused by Nepal's poor harvest.

"Nepalese people spend around 60 percent of their income on food consumption and current trends suggest spending on food is likely to go up," said Bijaya Shrestha, economics professor at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University.

"These are early warning signs that large numbers of people will go hungry."

The food price shock hit nearby Bangladesh in 2008 when food costs almost doubled after the country's grain output was devastated by major flooding and a catastrophic cyclone the previous year.

"The number of people unable to meet their minimum food needs rose by 7.5 million in 2008, bringing the total number to 65 million people," said World Food Programme country head John Aylieff.

"So 65 million people in this country cannot even make up their minimum food needs," he said.

And it's not going to get any better.

"High food prices are the harsh new reality," said the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which projects the world will need 70 percent more food by 2050 due to higher populations and rising incomes.


Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
Morrissey pictured in 2013
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

    Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

    Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

    Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices