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Fat-finding with a new meter for Bharat

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RG_NSSO_fat_per_capita_201412This rather nice infographic (all our own work) shows the variation in average fat intake per capita across fractile classes of monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) at the all-India level for the rural and urban populations. It also shows the variation in fat intake between rural and urban populations of 17 major states.

We find that the average fat intake for India was about 46gm per rural person per day and 58gm per urban person per day (in 2011-12). But averages hide a great deal, and our intriguing fat-finding meter brings out, with alarming clarity, the (somewhat greasy) details.

This graphic is based on the average daily fat intake per capita in 2011-12. The data is found in the National Sample Survey Office report No. 560 on ‘Nutritional Intake in India, 2011-12’. This report is based on the 68th round survey (July 2011 to June 2012) of the National Statistical Organisation, Government of India.

The NSS report found that the 10th and 11th rural population fractiles consume twice as much fat per day as those in the 3rd rural fractile class (members of a fractile numbered lower spend less per month than members of those numbered higher). Likewise, the 8th and 9th urban population fractiles consume 1.5 times as much fat per day as those in the 3rd and 4th urban fractile classes.

There is much variation between the fat intake by rural populations of states. In both rural and urban, per capita intake was lowest in Odisha (rural: 27.1gm; urban: 37.7gm) and Assam (rural: 29.6gm; urban: 39.2gm). The states with highest fat intake were Haryana (rural: 68.6gm; urban: 74.7gm), Gujarat (rural: 61.5gm; urban: 73.1gm) and Punjab (rural: 70.3gm; urban: 69.2gm).

But the NSS report found that the increase in fat intake per capita with the rise in MPCE level is steeper than the corresponding increase for protein intake (we will link this finding with a forthcoming infographic). Per capita fat intake in the top fractile class of the urban sector was about 100gm, more than three times that in the lowest fractile class (about 27gm), while in the rural sector the intake of the top fractile class, at 92gm, was more than four times higher than that of the bottom class (21gm).

In contrast to the remarkable closeness of average protein intake across the rural-urban
divide, average urban fat intake is noticeably higher than rural intake in all the fractile
classes. Except for the lowest fractile class (bottom 5% of population ranked by MPCE), the
difference in per capita fat intake between a rural fractile class and the corresponding urban
fractile class is never less than 7.5gm.

Visiting our total household food budget

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RG_pvt_final_cons_exp

Twice as much over the 11 years until 2009-10, and three times as much over the 10 years until 2012-13. That has been the increase in rupee expenditure for this basket of foods.

The data is from the private final consumption series, calculated by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI). The totals (left scale of the chart) is in thousand crore rupees.

In this chart I have shown the expenditure (in current rupees) for: Cereals and Bread, Pulses, Sugar and Gur, Oils and Oilseeds, Fruits and Vegetables, Milk and Milk Products, and Meat Egg and Fish. These totals also indicate the size in rupees of the food industry – but do not include the processed and packaged food industry.

The rise in consumption expenditure expressed in rupees is a money measure alone, and not a quantity or volume measure. We can see that the portion of milk and milk products in this group has gone up from just over 18% to 25% over 14 years, and the portion of meat, eggs and fish has gone up from just under 9% to 12.5% over the same period.

From 2006 the rising trend of expenditure on fruits and vegetables became steeper than the rising trend of cereals and bread. In 2005-06 the portion spent on fruit and vegetables in this group was just over 26% and that has risen slightly to 28% in 2012-13. In contrast for cereals and bread, the portion of 27.5% in 2005-06 has dropped to just over 21% in 2012-13.

The hunger that Bharat inherited from two lean decades

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What did the ‘liberalisation’ of the Indian economy bring? What has 20 years of the ‘India growth story’, which is sold around the world, brought its labour and workers? How have households rural and urban fared at balancing their budgets and meeting their needs? Poorly, for it has been a struggle that continues.

RG_nutrition_3An analysis in the journal of the National Sample Survey Office, Sarvekshana, has compiled estimates of average calorie intake for the country and the major states from six quinquennial (every five years) surveys of consumer expenditure. These surveys show a decline in average calorie intake between 1972-73 and 2009-10. The overall decline is substantially greater for rural than for urban India, and appears to have been sharper in the period since 1993-94 (as measured by the 50th round of NSSO surveys), especially in the urban sector.

The analysis on ‘Trends in Nutritional Intake in India’ has shown that the proportion of households with calorie intake below the level of 2700 kcal per consumer unit per day (this is a measure different from per capita) has grown steadily since 1993-94: from under 52% in rural India to nearly 62%, and from 57% in urban India to about 63%.

This is no surprise to the large proportion of our population who have borne the merciless brunt of food inflation for close to a generation. Between 2004 and 2013, food prices in general rose by 157%. Cereals, the staple diet of the poorest, were high on the scale, with rice at 137% and wheat at 117%. Pulses – the sole source of protein for most – had risen by 123%. Potato was even higher at 185%. As for vegetables, they have long priced themselves out of the diet of the poor, by rising up to 350%. This crippling rise continued while the government (UPA-I and UPA-II) loudly claimed every few months it would bring prices down.

RG_nutrition_1That is why the share of cereals in total calorie intake has declined since 1993-94 by nearly 7 percentage points for rural India and by about 3.5 percentage points for urban India: the share of oils and fats has on the other hand risen by 3 percentage points for both. The share of milk and milk products has grown by about 1.4 percentage points in urban India but by only 0.6 percentage points in rural India.

Moreover, at the all-India level protein intake has fallen from 60.2 grams to 55 grams per person per day in rural India and from 57.2 grams to 53.5 grams in urban India over the period 1993-94 to 2009-10. The decline has taken place in most major states but has been sharpest in rural areas of Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab – where intake has fallen by 9-12 grams.

As the major trade unions have been raising an alarm about at least every quarter, the price of rice for BPL (below poverty line) card holders increased from Rs 350 per quintal in 1997-98 to Rs 415 per quintal in 2007-08. In the same period the APL (above poverty line) price was increased from Rs 550 per quintal to Rs 755. For wheat, the price for BPL card holders was increased from Rs 250 per quintal to Rs 415 and for APL card holders from Rs 450 to Rs 610 in a period of 10 years.

RG_nutrition_2In such a situation, fats ought not to be a contributor to calories more than it was 30 years ago. But the analysis tells us otherwise – for India has become the favoured importer of palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia. Every major state shows an increase in its population’s fat intake. At the all-India level the increase has been from 31.4 grams per person per day in 1993-94 for the rural population to 38.3 grams in 2009-10 – a rise of 7 grams per day over the 16-year period, and from 42 grams to 47.9 grams per day for the urban population, a rise of 6 grams per day over the same period. Between 1993-94 and 2009-10, the contribution of cereals to protein intake has fallen by about 4.5 percentage points in rural India and by 3 percentage points in urban India, while the contribution of pulses has fallen slightly in both rural and urban India.

This analysis from the NSSO must be viewed against the growing trend in India of the corporatisation of agriculture and the industrialisation of the food system. New market monopolies whose reach is far greater than could be conceived in 1993-94 are now at work, aided by speculative financial predators. There is in response a need for strengthening social ownership of the cultivation of food staples, of the organic agriculture movement, of shortening the distances that food travels, of localisation of the Bharatiya food web.

Modding the FAO food price index to get closer to bazaar reality

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The FAO has released its latest food price index data, and the central message for this month is: little change from the last month. The question for us, as we read about and hear about steadily rising food price inflation in the countries of the South, is: why is the FAO food price index not capturing real inflation for these populations?

This chart is a way to rectify that lack. In this, I have used the index data as the composite (food) plus the components (meat, dairy, cereals, oils, sugar) directly from the data, but have re-based them.

The familiar old blue panel.

I have used the monthly data from 2008 January to 2012 March, and re-based them (six series) on each of their minima for the period. Thus, the minima are: Food, 141.3 in 2009 Feb; Meat, 120.4 in 2009 Feb; Dairy, 114.3 in 2009 Feb; Cereals, 151.2 in 2010 June; Oils, 127.3 in 2008 December; and Sugar, 166.7 in 2008 December.

The current readings for all six series (2012 March) are: Food 215.9; Meat 178.2; Dairy 197.0; Cereals 227.0; Oils 244.9; Sugar 341.9.

What this chart does is show the variation by month from the minimum for each series for the period. It is another way of looking at how the indices have moved from a point of low reference in the recent past, and to my mind is more evocative of the real situation in rural and urban food markets in the South.

The April release can be found here. And this is what FAO’s usually bland commentary on the latest month’s movements is: “The FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) averaged 216 points in March 2012, virtually unchanged from 215 points in February. Among the various commodity groups, only oils prices showed strength, compensating for falling dairy quotations, while the indices of cereals, sugar and meat prices were largely unchanged from last month’s level.”

Written by makanaka

April 21, 2012 at 16:39

How ‘sticky’ is food inflation? What the FAO food index really says

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Using the just released FAO food index update for 2011 August, I have compared the two periods of high food prices, the earlier one in 2007-08 and the continuing period of 2010-11.

Between 2007 Dec and 2008 Sep: for 8 months the Food Index was above 200, and for 10 months the Cereals Index was above 200.

Between 2010 Sep and 2011 Aug: for 11 months the Food Index has been above 200, and for 12 months the Cereals Index has been above 200.

This is the longest period in the last ten years that the FAO food index has been at such a level. This is the backstory of the FAO Food Price Index.

Let’s turn to what the FAO has said about the 2011 August update.

World food prices remained virtually unchanged between July and August 2011. The Index averaged 231 points last month compared to 232 points in July. It was 26% higher than in August 2010 but seven points below its all-time high of 238 points in February 2011. Within the index, cereals prices rose, reflecting the fact that although cereal production is expected to increase, it will not do so by enough to offset the additional demand, so that stocks continue to be low and prices continue to be high and volatile.

The FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 253 points in August, up 2.2%, or 5 points, from July and 36% higher than in August 2010. However, the firmer cereal prices were largely offset by declines in international prices of most other commodities included in the Food Price Index, oils and dairy products in particular.

Cereal price rises stem from a supply and demand balance that remains tight despite the anticipated increase in production. World cereal production in 2011 is now forecast to reach 2,307 million tonnes, 3% higher than in 2010. But this latest forecast is nearly 6 million tonnes lower than the previous forecast published in July.

Among the major cereals, the maize supply situation is a cause for concern following downward revisions to maize crop prospects in the United States, the world’s largest maize producer, because of continued hot weather in July and August. Average wheat prices were also up 9% in August given the strong demand for feed wheat and shrinking supplies of high quality wheat. Nonetheless, world wheat production is forecast to increase by 4.3% (or 28 million tonnes), only 4 million tonnes below the 2009 record.

World coarse grain production is still heading for a record level of 1,147.5 million tonnes, up 2.4% (or 27 million tonnes) from 2010, in spite of lowered maize production prospects in the United States, the world’s largest maize producer. Rice prices also gained with the benchmark Thai rice price up 5% from July, driven by a policy change in Thailand, the world’s largest rice exporter, where paddy rice will be purchased from farmers at above market prices. Global rice production prospects remain favourable, however, with output set to reach a new high of 479 million tonnes, up 2.5% from 2010.

Total cereal utilization in 2011-12 is forecast to increase by 1.4%, almost matching anticipated 2011 production. As a result, global cereal inventories by the close of seasons in 2012 are likely to remain close to their already low opening levels. Only rice stocks are expected to increase significantly, supported by record production. Wheat inventories are likely to decline to their lowest level since 2009 and world stocks of coarse grains are also forecast to plunge, with maize inventories falling to 124 million tonnes, their lowest level since 2007. Given the tight global supply and demand balance for coarse grains, its stocks-to-use ratio is forecast to fall to a historical low of 13.4%.

The FAO Oils/Fats Price Index averaged 244 points in August, following a declining trend since March but still remaining high in historical terms. The FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 221 points in August, significantly down from 228 points in July and 232 points in June, but still 14% higher than the same period last year. The FAO Meat Price Index averaged 181 points in August, up 1% from July. The FAO Sugar Price Index averaged 394 points in August, down 2% from July, but still 50% higher than in August 2010.

Written by makanaka

September 9, 2011 at 20:37

FAO’s March 2011 food price index, anomaly or turnaround?

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FAO food price index for 2011 March

Global food prices decline, is the assessment of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for 2011 March. The FAO Food Price Index has shown its first decrease in eight months. “The food price index dropped some this month but only time will tell if this is the start of a reversal of the upward trend,” said FAO.

The Index averaged 230 points in March 2011, down 2.9 percent from its peak in February, but still 37 percent above March of last year. “The decrease in the overall index this month brings some welcome respite from the steady increases seen over the last eight months,” said David Hallam, Director of FAO’s Trade and Market Division. “But it would be premature to conclude that this is a reversal of the upward trend,” he added.

“We need to see the information on new plantings over the next few weeks to get an idea of future production levels. But low stock levels, the implications for oil prices of events in the Middle East and North Africa and the effects of the destruction in Japan all make for continuing uncertainty and price volatility over the coming months,” said Hallam.

FAO food commodity price index for 2011 March

International prices of oils and sugar dropped the most, followed by cereals. By contrast, dairy and meat prices were up, although only marginally in the case of meat. The Cereal Price Index averaged 252 points in March, down 2.6 percent from February, but still 60 percent higher than in March 2010. March was extremely volatile for grains, with international quotations first plunging sharply, driven largely by outside market developments such as the increased economic uncertainties accompanying the turmoil in North Africa and parts of the Near East as well as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, before regaining most of their losses. Rice prices also fell as a result of abundant supply in exporting countries and sluggish import demand.

A positive outlook but food stocks diminish, said the FAO. World production of cereals fell in 2010, resulting in falling stocks, while total cereal utilization is expected to reach a record level in 2010/11. While most indications point to increased cereal production in 2011, the projected growth may not be sufficient to replenish inventories, in which case prices could remain firm throughout 2011/12 as well.

Index details: The FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) averaged 230 points in March  2011, down  2.9 percent from its peak in February, but still 37 percent above March last year. International prices of oils and sugar contracted the most, followed by cereals. By contrast, dairy and meat prices were up.

FAO food price index real/deflated for 2011 March

The FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 252 points, down 2.6 percent from February, but still 60% higher than in March 2010. The past month was extremely volatile for grains, with international quotations first plunging sharply, driven largely by recent events in Japan and North Africa, before regaining most of their losses towards the end of the month, as markets reacted to a continuing tight world supply and demand condition. Rice prices also fell amid large availability in exporting countries and sluggish import demand.

The FAO Oils/Fats Price Index fell 7 percent, to 260, interrupting nine months of consecutive rise. Last month’s slide in prices reflects primarily a recovery in global supply prospects for palm oil. The FAO Sugar Price Index averaged 372 points, down as much as 10 percent from the highs of January and February. The recent decline in international sugar prices was partly prompted by prospects of increased market availability, notably from India.

The FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 234 points, up 1.9 percent from February and 37 percent above its level in March 2010. Firm import demand together with lower than expected production in Southern hemisphere supplying countries, where the milking season is coming to a close, continue to underpin world prices. The FAO Meat Price Index  was little changed at 169 points in March. The upward trend in  meat prices since 2010 has flattened in the past few months, reflecting trade disruptions in several key markets, particularly North Africa and Japan.

Written by makanaka

April 12, 2011 at 19:54

For 2011 February, another new peak for world food prices, FAO index rises higher

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The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said that global food prices increased for the eighth consecutive month in February, with prices of all commodity groups monitored rising again, except for sugar.

FAO said it expects a tightening of the global cereal supply and demand balance in 2010-11. In the face of a growing demand and a decline in world cereal production in 2010, global cereal stocks this year are expected to fall sharply because of a decline in inventories of wheat and coarse grains. International cereal prices have increased sharply with export prices of major grains up at least 70% from February last year.

“Unexpected oil price spikes could further exacerbate an already precarious situation in food markets,” said David Hallam, Director of FAO’s Trade and Market Division. “This adds even more uncertainty concerning the price outlook just as plantings for crops in some of the major growing regions are about to start,” he added.

Food Price Index – The FAO Food Price Index averaged 236 points in February, up 2.2% from January, the highest record in real and nominal terms, since FAO started monitoring prices in 1990. The Cereal Price Index, which includes prices of main food staples such as wheat, rice and maize, rose by 3.7% in February (254 points), the highest level since July 2008.

The FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 230 points in February, up 4% from January, but well below its peak in November 2007. The FAO Oils/Fats Price Index rose marginally to 279 points in February, a level just below the peak recorded in June 2008. The FAO Meat Price Index averaged 169 points in February, up 2% from January. By contrast, the FAO Sugar Price Index averaged 418 points in February, slightly below the previous month but still 16% higher than February 2010.

Cereal supply and demand – FAO expects winter crops in the northern hemisphere to be generally favourable and forecasts global wheat production to increase by around 3% in 2011.This assumes a recovery in wheat production in major producing countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. So far, conditions of winter crops in those countries are generally favourable.

The latest estimate for the world cereal production in 2010 is 8 million tonnes more than was anticipated in December but still slightly below 2009. This month’s upward revision reflects mostly higher estimates for production in Argentina, China and Ethiopia.

The forecast for world cereal utilisation in 2010-11 has been revised up by 18 million tonnes since December. The bulk of the revision reflects adjustments to the feed and industrial utilization of coarse grains. Larger use of maize for ethanol production in the USA and statistical adjustments to China’s historical (since 2006-07) supply and demand balance for maize are the main reasons for the revision.

The hammer blow of the triple crisis, food in February 2011

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FAO-food-price-index-201102The FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) rose for the seventh consecutive month, averaging 231 points in January 2011, up 3.4% from December 2010 and the highest (in both real and nominal terms) since the index has been backtracked in 1990.

Prices of all the commodity groups monitored registered strong gains in January compared to December, except for meat, which remained unchanged. Changes in the composition of  the meat price index (read more) have resulted in adjustments to the historical values of the FFPI. One implication of this revision is that the December value of the FFPI, which previously was the highest on record, is now the highest since July 2008.

The Cereal Price Index averaged 245 points in January, up 3% from December and the highest since July 2008, but still 11% below its peak in April 2008. The increase in January mostly reflected continuing increases in international prices of wheat and maize, amid tightening supplies, while rice prices fell slightly, as the timing coincides with the harvesting of main crops in major exporting countries. The Oils/Fats Price Index rose by 5.6% to 278 points, nearing the June 2008 record level, reflecting an increasingly tight supply and demand balance across the oilseeds complex.

FAO-food-price-index-deflated-201102

FAO food price index deflated, 2011 February

See earlier posts on food, grain and prices:

Food production and grain trade / FAO food price index tops the 2008 peak / Food inflation crippled India’s households in 2010 / Early price indicator for 2011 foodgrain / Only 16 points under the 2008 peak, FAO’s food price index / Bringing nutrition back into climate change talks / Grain market outlook, end October 2010 / How the World Bank is leveraging the new food crisis.

The Dairy Price Index averaged 221 points in January, up 6.2% from December, but still 17% below its peak in November 2007. A firm global demand for dairy products, against the backdrop of a (normal) seasonal decline of production in the southern hemisphere, continued to underpin dairy prices. The Sugar Price Index averaged 420 points in January, up 5.4% from December. International sugar prices remain high, driven by tight global supplies. By contrast, the Meat Price Index were steady at around 166 points, as falling prices in Europe, caused by a fall in consumer confidence following a feed contamination, was compensated by a slight increase in export prices from Brazil and the USA.

FAO-food-commodity-price-index-201102The Index averaged 231 points in January and was up 3.4% from December 2010. This is the highest level (both in real and nominal terms) since FAO started measuring food prices in 1990. Prices of all monitored commodity groups registered strong gains in January, except for meat, which remained unchanged. “The new figures clearly show that the upward pressure on world food prices is not abating,” said FAO economist and grains expert Abdolreza Abbassian. “These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come. High food prices are of major concern especially for low-income food deficit countries that may face problems in financing food imports and for poor households which spend a large share of their income on food.”

“The only encouraging factor so far stems from a number of countries, where – due to good harvests – domestic prices of some of the food staples remain low compared to world prices,” Abbassian added. FAO emphasized that the Food Price Index has been revised, largely reflecting adjustments to its meat price index. The revision, which is retroactive, has produced new figures for all the indices but the overall trends measured since 1990 remain unchanged.

FAO food price index tops the 2008 peak

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The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index has risen to 214.7 for December 2010, which is above its peak of 213.5 in June 2008.

This new peak, at a time when the price of crude oil is above USD 90 a barrel, is the strongest signal yet that global foodgrain supply has entered a critical phase. The FAO index has been rising steadily through the second half of 2010 – we discussed it here.

The cereal price index stands at 237.6 which is almost 40 points below the peak of 274.3 (in April 2008). The oils price index stands at 263 which is just under 20 points less than the peak of 282.6 (in June 2008). The dairy price index stands at 208.4 which is 60 points under the peak of 268.6 (in November 2007).

But the sugar and meat price indices are at all-time highs. The meat price index is now at 142.2 (in September 2008 it was 137.4 and its previous all-time high was 139.3 in September 1990). The sugar price index is now at 398.4 which is an extraordinary 180 points above its all-time high of 218 (in March 1990 – it was 207 at the maximum during 2008). The sugar price index crossed 300 in August 2008 and remained above 300 until March 2010, and again crossed 300 in September 2010.

Comparing three-month averages for the FAO food index and its main index components helps us understand how the 2010-11 food price crisis compares with its predecessor in 2007-08:

Food     Meat       Dairy     Cereals    Oils       Sugar
3-month avg
at 2008 Jun    210.4    129.5    240.8    271.7    273.9    173.9
3-month avg
at 2010 Dec    206.4    141.2    206.3    227.0    242.1    373.7

A Bloomberg report quotes FAO senior economist Abdolreza Abbassian: “One might expect prices to come down in spring, and this may be in fact the worst. But given how unexpected the weather events have been, I for one would not want to bet on anything along those lines.” The report said that concern about drought doing harm to Argentine harvests helped corn jump 52% in Chicago last year and soybeans to rise 34%. Prices also gained as China, the world’s largest soybean buyer, became a net corn importer. Wheat added 47% in 2010 as Russia, hit by its worst drought in a half-century, banned all cereal exports.

“Eyes will be on the Argentina corn crop,” Abbassian said. “There is still, unfortunately, a potential for grain prices to strengthen on the back of a lot of uncertainty. If anything goes wrong with the South American crop, there is plenty of room for them to increase further.” Potential damage to South American soybean and corn crops is of greater concern for world grain prices than harm to wheat in Australia caused by floods, according to the economist. Argentina and Brazil are the world’s second- and third-biggest corn and soybean exporters after the US. “The watch is definitely on South America for the next two weeks,” Abbassian said. “Given the very tight corn market, and demand from China for soybeans and the tight soybean market, if those commodities start to rise more, that will also lift wheat.”

Agrimoney has a report polling commodities fund managers in several financial centres worldwide for their views. What they say about the impact major forecasts, such as the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, have is worth paying close attention to. The WASDE report provides the US Department of Agriculture’s comprehensive forecasts of supply and demand for major US and global crops.

Reuters has reported that India’s food inflation rose for the fifth straight week to the highest in more than a year, reinforcing fears it has spilt over to broader prices and cementing expectations of a January interest rate hike. “But the spurt in prices of many basic foodstuffs has also raised questions over the government’s ability to control price rises through monetary policy, with poor infrastructure, hoarding and supply bottlenecks contributing to stubbornly-high food inflation.”

Unseasonal rains are officially blamed for pushing up prices of vegetables such as onions and tomatoes, but some commentators point instead to poor agricultural productivity and transport after years of few reforms and weak government investment. Onion prices, a key food staple for Indian families, rose over 23% percent over the week to December 25. The food price index rose 18.3% in the year to December 25 and the fuel price index climbed 11.6%. This compared with 14.4% and 11.6% annual rises the previous week.

The Wall Street Journal has said that food prices in India are continuing their sharp rise, increasing concerns among economists about a prolonged spell of high prices and adding pressure to the central bank to raise interest rates later this month. “The Reserve Bank of India next meets on Jan. 25 to consider an interest rate rise after pushing up rates six times in 2010 – one of the most aggressive tightenings of any central bank. But calls for a further move keep coming, most recently with the International Monetary Fund saying in a report released Thursday that rates need to be higher to curb inflation.

“The central bank will need to walk a fine line, however, since liquidity within the bank system is tight and further rate hikes could exacerbate that problem, economists said. Data from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry Thursday showed that the wholesale price index for food articles rose 2.5% in the week ended December 25 from the previous week. The year-on-year inflation rate for food surged to 18.32% from 14.44% the week before. It was the fifth straight week of rising food prices, which have been hovering at elevated levels in recent months.”

Food inflation crippled India’s households in 2010

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Vegetables, fruits and cereals market in in the city of Surat, Gujarat state, IndiaThe price of a basket of staple foods has become crippling in rural and urban India. The government’s response is to favour agri-commodity markets, greater retail investment and more technology inputs. For food grower and consumer alike, the need for genuine farm swaraj has never been greater.

The retail prices of staple foods rose steadily through 2010, far exceeding in real terms what the Government of India and the financial system call “headline inflation”, and exceeding also the rate of the rise in food inflation as calculated for the country. These calculations ignore the effective inflation and its increase as experienced by the rural and urban household, and they ignore also the considerable regional variations in India of a typical monthly food basket.

Vegetables, fruits and cereals market in in the city of Surat, Gujarat state, IndiaMoreover, from a household perspective an increase in the prices of food staples is not seen as an annual phenomenon, to be compared with some point 12 months in the past. It is intimately linked to employment (whether informal or seasonal), net income, and the pressures on the food budget from competing demands of medical treatment, education and expenses on fuel and energy.

When real net income remains unchanged for over a year or longer, the household suffers a contraction in the budget available for the food basket, and this contraction – often experienced by rural cultivator families and agricultural labour – is only very inadequately reflected by the national rate of increase in food inflation.

An indicator of the impact on households is provided by the price monitoring cell of the Department Of Consumer Affairs, Ministry Of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. This cell records the retail and wholesale prices of essential commodities in 37 cities and towns in India. Data over a 36-month period (2008 January to 2010 December) for the prices of cereals, pulses, sugar, tea, milk and onions reveals the impact of the steady rise in the Indian household’s food basket.

In 33 cities and towns for which there are regular price entries, the price per kilo of the “fair average” quality of rice has risen by an average of 42% over the calendar period 2008 January to 2010 December. In 12 of these urban centres the increase has been over 50% (Vijayawada, Thiruvananthapuram, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Patna, Cuttack, Bhubaneshwar, Indore, Bhopal, Shimla, Karnal and Hisar).

The average price rise over the same period for a kilo of tur dal, for 32 cities for which there is regular price data, is 46%. In 11 of these urban centres the increase in the price of tur dal has been over 50% (Puducherry, Bengaluru, Patna, Agartala, Nagpur, Mumbai, Indore, Ahmedabad, Shimla, Jammu and New Delhi). Where wheat is concerned, from among the 27 cities and towns for which there are regular price entries over three years, in 10 the per kilo price rise is 30% and more.

Vegetables, fruits and cereals market in in the city of Surat, Gujarat state, IndiaIf in search of a comforting cup of tea over which to rue the effect of the steady price rise, this too will cost a great deal more than it did three years ago. For 25 urban centres with regular price data, the average increase over the same period of 100 grams of loose tea leaf is 38% and in 11 of these cities and towns the increase is between 40% and 100%.

The sugar with which to sweeten that cup of tea has become prohibitively expensive over the January 2008 to December 2010 period. For the 32 cities and towns for which there is regular price data, the average price increase for a kilo of sugar is 102%, the range of increase being between 76% and 125%.

This increase for sugar – relatively homogenous for the price reporting centres – exhibits the countrywide nature of the price rise of the commodity. Nor is there a household economy case for substituting sugar for gur, or jaggery. For the 17 towns and cities reporting data for gur prices over the same 36-month period, the increase in price over the period has been an average 118% with 11 of these centres recording an increase of over 100%.

Vegetables, fruits and cereals market in in the city of Surat, Gujarat state, IndiaAdding a third element of higher cost to the humble cup of tea is the price of milk. For the 25 towns and cities which recorded increases in the per litre price of milk over the 36-month period (one city recorded a drop) the average rise is 37%. In seven cities a litre of milk costs at least 50% more in December 2010 than what it did in January 2008 – Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Indore, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Patna and Hyderabad.

In conspicuous contrast are the rates of increase in price of cooking media – groundnut oil, mustard oil and vanaspati. Over the January 2008 to December 2010 period the 37 urban centres recorded average price increases of 10%, 9% and 10% respectively for groundnut oil, mustard oil and vanaspati.

Finally, the volatile allium cepa, or common red onion. In 29 cities and towns reporting regularly the per kilo prices of onion, the increase in price of the vegetable has been astonishingly steep. The average increase for 29 cities is 197.5% and in 14 the increase has been 200% and above – New Delhi, Shimla, Ahmedabad, Indore, Mumbai, Rajkot, Agartala, Aizawl, Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Vijaywada. In pale comparison is the otherwise worrying average increase of 39.5% for a kilo of potatoes – this is the 36-month average increase recorded by 27 urban centres.