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South Asia frets over high food prices




  • 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.

    Pulses are on display at a shop in Mumbai on September 17, 2009.

    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 per cent of India’s farm land is irrigated — 60 per cent 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 per cent on an annual basis, driven mainly by a 50-per cent rise in vegetable prices.
    Prices of potatoes were up by 81 per cent, sugar was up by 44 per cent, pulses were 20 per cent higher and rice had risen by 19 per cent.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.

    Courtesy: The DAWN

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