Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

Faster, higher, dearer – dizzying pace of food price rise in India

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The alarming tale of food prices, from 2004 January to 2013 August, that have squeezed the household budgets of cultivators and rural labourers.

The alarming tale of food prices, from 2004 January to 2013 August, that have squeezed the household budgets of cultivators and rural labourers.

For most of 2013, the central government broadcast, through important cabinet ministers and official statements, its worry about economic growth, that every effort must be made to steer India back towards a high economic growth rate. In the food and agriculture sector, that effort has led, in the last four to five years, to a gulf in growth rates between agriculture and the combination of processed and packaged foods and beverages (which the food retail industry is being arrayed around). While the agriculture sector (including fisheries and livestock) has been growing at or just above 4% a year for the last several years, the processed foods and beverages industry has been growing at around 15% a year.

The effects of this growth (setting aside criticisms of how such growth is measured) in both these allied sectors – the one much larger but the other which is a feature of urbanising India – may be seen in the transformation of cultivation and of food. That is why, not only has the consumer price index for rural citizens climbed without let every year for the last nine years, there is evidence in this index data to show that the rate of increase has accelerated in the last few years.

The trend we have all become painfully familiar with, in states and towns measured and unmeasured.

The trend we have all become painfully familiar with, in states and towns measured and unmeasured.

The consumer price index for agricultural labourers (usually abbreviated to CPI-AL) from 2004 January to 2013 August shows a steady rise for all the 20 states in the set (see the chart alongside). Compiled by the Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour and Employment, the data shows that the average CPI-AL of these states has been rising around 50 percentage points a year for the last four years. Using quarterly averages (taken for June, July and August) for 2013, 2012 and 2011 and comparing them with the same averages a year earlier, we see that the all-India increases in the index for 12 months (2013 over 2012) is 12.96%, for 24 months (2013 over 2011) is 22.68% and for 36 months (2013 over 2010) it is 34.08%.

States that experienced the steepest increase in the CPI-AL over 36 months are Gujarat with 32%, Punjab 32.4%, Odisha 32.5%, Rajasthan 35.1%, Maharashtra 35.3%, Manipur 37.6%, Andhra Pradesh 37.9%, Kerala 38.4%, Tamil Nadu 39.2% and Karnataka 48.2%. That is why we have witnessed the widespread trend of migration by rural populations towards smaller urban agglomerations, with the impacts recorded in various data releases from Census 2011.

The Labour Bureau data contains evidence that for all states which have CPI-AL measured, the rate at which the index is rising is accelerating. This acceleration is visible when the period 2004 January to 2013 August is divided into five phases. These are represented by the circles in the illustrated chart (the main image above), the phases 2004 Jan to 2005 Dec, 2006 Jan to 2007 Nov, 2007 Dec to 2009 Oct, 2009 Nov to 2011 Sep and 2011 Oct to 2013 Aug). These points (five for each state) are plotted against not the ordinary scale of the CPI-AL but against a range of point increases in the CPI-AL. Hence this shows the rise in the CPI-AL and the more recent speed of that rise.

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