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

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
news

As anti-Semitic attacks rise, Grant Feller re-evaluates his identity

Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

News
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients
science

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

News
people
Life and Style
food and drink

Savoury patisserie is a thing now

News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
news

Meet the primary school where every day is National Poetry Day

News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Services Team Leader

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a prog...

    Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare high quality opportunity for a...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    £45 - £50 per day: Randstad Education Group: Job opportunities for SEN Teachin...

    Secondary teachers required in King's Lynn

    £21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary teachers re...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?