South Asia frets over high
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.
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.