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.

burs-pmc/mtp/jw

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

    £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

    Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

    £26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen