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Posts Tagged ‘middle class

What we know and don’t about the true price of dal

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If you look at only the official account (left), the price of dal has been comfortable, but the consumer experience (right) tells a quite different story.

If you look at only the official account (left), the price of dal has been comfortable, but the consumer experience (right) tells a quite different story.

How urgently our national food price measuring methods need a complete overhaul is best shown with the example of a staple everyone is familiar with: arhar or tur dal.

Price indexes or indices are useful because they help us view the change in the price of a particular food staple over time, not the price itself, but change in price when taken from a base year or month. Price records are useful because they log the price (per kilo for retail consumption) of a food staple in a week or month.

The three ministries concerned with food prices update their indices or actual price reports every month or week. These are: the Department of Consumer Affairs of the Ministry of Food and Consumer Affairs, the Directorate of Economics and Statistics of the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation of the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Labour Bureau of the Ministry of Labour. In addition, there is the wholesale price index prepared by the Office of the Economic Adviser, Ministry of Commerce.

arhar_true_price_chart_sm1Usually, movements and trends in these indices and price logs are examined by themselves, and conclusions are drawn about whether the price of a food staple has been held steady or is rising steadily or is rising seasonally and also annually (we never see prices and trends going downwards).

But this is not enough. We need also to examine whether these indices and price logs are describing what they are designed to in the same manner and – very much more important – whether their descriptions are reasonable or not.

In the two chart panels, I have plotted the descriptions for arhar/tur dal from several sources together. The left chart has solid coloured price lines from the Department of Consumer Affairs and from the Directorate of Economics and Statistics. Each has two lines, the higher at the 90th percentile and the lower at the 10th percentile of all monthly prices logged from 2009 January until 2014 June. The two dashed lines are indices – the wholesale price index for arhar/tur and the Labour Bureau’s retail price index for arhar/tur over the same period. The price logs are plotted against the left index and the price indices are plotted against the right index.

Between the two indices the WPI for arhar appears lower than the Labour Bureau index, but that has only to do with a difference base period. The overall pattern they describe is the same. The two sets of price logs shows the two different levels for the 90th and 10th percentiles – in both cases the prices recorded by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics are higher than those recorded by the Department of Consumer Affairs. However they all follow a similar pattern over the 66 months illustrated here.

arhar_true_price_chart_sm2And so to the question: how true is what these indices and price logs are describing?

The answer is in the right chart. Here, two more lines are seen. These are both ascending relatively evenly over the 66 months, one at a slightly steeper rate. These I have called the ‘real retail’ price lines, one low and the other high. They describe the prices paid by urban consumers for a kilogram of arhar/tur dal based on what has been charged by ordinary retail outlets in towns and cities, with the price readings collected informally. They have also been ‘straightened’ by applying a 12%-14% true inflation that has been experienced by urban food consumers over these 66 months.

The effect, as you can see, is startling. The ‘real retail’ price lines explain why the consumption of pulses has been dropping and continues to drop especially amongst urban households whose livelihoods depend on multiple informal jobs. At Rs 90 to Rs 110 per kilogram, this dal (like other pulses) is almost beyond reach. At Rs 120 to Rs 130 per kilogram – these are levels that began to be recorded by consumers, but not consistently by the government price monitoring agencies, even two years ago – the dal can be consumed only by the upper strata of the urban middle class.

The question that immediately arises is: why is the real food price inflation being experienced by consumers not reflected in the official food price logs and indices? I will take up this question in the next posting.

Poverty is a new market for management firms

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The Rs 1,336 proposed by McKinsey will neither help run this household nor provide any 'empowerment'.

The Rs 1,336 proposed by McKinsey will neither help run this household in rural Karnataka nor provide any ’empowerment’. The family’s entrepreneurship, running a cooked food stall in a part of the house, keeps it comfortably above the poverty line.

There is a new contributor to an old subject in India. The subject is poverty, and the newcomer is a management consulting company. This sort of company has no experience with such a subject, however the McKinsey Global Institute – which works as “the research arm of consulting company McKinsey” – has not been short of advisers on the matter.

What does this consulting company say and why should we keep an eye on their activity in this subject? This institute has issued a report called ‘From poverty to empowerment: India’s imperative for jobs, growth and effective basic services’. The proposal, unabashedly touted as new thinking, is that India should focus not on a poverty line but on a “more comprehensive measure of what it would take to satisfy a person’s basic needs for food, energy, housing, drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, schooling and social security”.

This new thinking – presented as a startling innovation in the same way that a new brand of running shoes or some such frippery is launched – is called an “empowerment line”. This ‘line’ has been placed at Rs 1,336 rupees a month – which McKinsey points out is about 50% higher than the national official poverty line.

McKinsey_India_poverty_coverWhat is sought to be fixed at the bidding of the current government of India and at what cost? This new report by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that Rs 330,000 crore should be spent over the next 10 years to “empower 680 million Indians who are only marginally better than those under the poverty line”. And moreover that this spending be increased to reach 1.08 million crore by 2022 because “the government’s spending on various development schemes” does not “effectively reach much of the public”. At current rates of exchange, that is US$ 173 billion and what handsome percentage of that will be marked (or unmarked) as consultants’ fees?

Likewise, we must also examine those who have provided, as McKinsey has said, “insights and guidance” for this work. Among those listed are Subir Gokarn, director of research of Brookings India and former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India; Vijay Kelkar, chairman of the India Development Foundation, former chairman of India’s Finance Commission, and former finance secretary, Government of India; Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of India; Arun Maira and B K Chaturvedi, members of the Planning Commission of India; Rakesh Mohan, India’s executive director at the International Monetary Fund; Nandan Nilekani, chairman, Unique Identification Authority of India; S Ramadorai, adviser to the Prime Minister, National Council on Skill Development; and Soli Sorabjee, former attorney-general of India.

Disconnected entirely from the dynamics of district livelihoods and factors that influence income and well-being, consulting companies such as McKinsey must not continue to be engaged by central and state governments in any capacity.

Disconnected entirely from the dynamics of district livelihoods and factors that influence income and well-being, consulting companies such as McKinsey must not continue to be engaged by central and state governments in any capacity.

These people are votaries of the thesis that GDP growth is good, and that all policy must conform to such a doctrine. Hence it becomes easier to see the connection between the direction that the UPA 1 and UPA 2 governments have taken till here, and the firm grip finance and industry have on the country’s journey into ‘development’, aided by the outpourings of management consulting companies such as McKinsey. This ‘empowerment index’ is nothing but a repetition of the desire that over the period 2010-20, urban India must create 70% of all new jobs in India and these urban jobs will be twice as productive as equivalent jobs in the rural sector, as stated in ‘India’s Urban Awakening: Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth’, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute issued in early 2010.

The expectation is that as India’s cities expand, India’s economic profile will also change. In 1995, India’s GDP was divided almost evenly between its urban and rural economies. In 2008, urban GDP accounted for 58% of overall GDP. By 2030, according to the McKinsey report’s calculations, urban India will generate nearly 70% of India’s GDP. Such a transformation, if it comes to pass, is expected to deliver a steep increase in India’s per capita income between now and 2030 wherein the number of middle class households (earning between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 10 lakh a year) will increase from 32 million to 147 million. And it is against the drawing of that alarming line of minimum urbanisation drawn four years earlier, that this new line must be viewed, together with the injunction that “India can bring more than 90 percent of its people above the Empowerment Line in just a decade by implementing inclusive reforms”.

The meat map of the world

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The economies in Asia and elsewhere will see around 80 percent of the growth in the meat sector by 2022. The biggest growth will be in China and India because of huge demand from their new middle classes. Chart: Meat Atlas

The economies in Asia and elsewhere will see around 80 percent of the growth in the meat sector by 2022. The biggest growth will be in China and India because of huge demand from their new middle classes. Chart: Meat Atlas

Industrial livestock production in Europe and the USA began when feed, energy and land were inexpensive, the ‘Meat Atlas’ has explained, which is published jointly by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Friends of the Earth Europe.

Nowadays, feed, energy and land have all become scarce and costs have gone up. As a result, total meat production is growing less quickly than before. “The market is growing only for pigs and poultry. Both species utilise feed well and can be kept in a confined space. This means that they can be used to supply the insatiable demand for cheap meat,” the Meat Atlas has said.

By 2022, almost half the additional meat consumed will come from poultry. Beef production, on the other hand, is scarcely growing. The USA remains the world’s largest beef producer, but the meat industry describes the situation there as dramatic. For 2013, it expects a fall of 4-6 per cent compared to 2012 and predicts the decline to continue in 2014. In other traditional producing regions including Brazil, Canada and Europe, production is stagnating or falling.

MeatAtlas2014_P11a_section“The star of the day is India, thanks to its buffalo meat production, which nearly doubled between 2010 and 2013. India is forcing its way onto the world market, where 25 percent of the beef is in fact now buffalo meat from the subcontinent,” said the Atlas (see this news report from 2013 June).

According to the US Department of Agriculture, India became the world’s biggest exporter of beef in 2012 – going ahead of Brazil. Buffaloes are considered inexpensive to keep by the USDA (what benchmark do they use for husbandry I wonder). Thus the USDA considers buffalo meat a dollar a kilo cheaper than beef from Western cattle. In addition, the Meat Atlas has reminded us, the Indian government has invested heavily in abattoirs. Moreover, faced with the high price of feed, Brazilian cattle-raisers are switching to growing soybeans which has presented an opportunity for Indian buffalo-meat exporters.

China and India differ markedly in their food consumption patterns. In India, a vegetarian lifestyle has deep cultural and social roots. In surveys cited by the Atlas, a quarter or more of all Indians say they are vegetarian. “But the number of meat-eaters is growing. Since the economic boom (my note: usual dreadful mis-labelling here; it is no ‘boom’ but a slow destruction) in the early 1990s, a broad middle class that aspires to a Western lifestyle has emerged (true enough). This includes eating meat which has become a status symbol among parts of the population. Nevertheless, meat consumption in India is still small – per person it is less than one-tenth of the amount consumed in China.”

MeatAtlas2014_vegetariansThe costs borne by the environment because of the world’s fondness for animal-origin protein are probably the biggest, but are still difficult to calculate despite some 30 years of following advances in environmental economics. This helps us estimate some damage to nature in monetary terms. It covers the costs of factory farming that do not appear on industry balance sheets, such as money saved by keeping the animals in appalling conditions. The burden upon nature also grows by over-fertilisation caused by spreading manure and slurry on the land and applying fertilisers to grow fodder maize and other crops.

Why India is ruled for its cities

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RG_urbanisation_Agenda_issue_201308Over the period 2010-20, urban India is expected to create 70% of all new jobs in India and these urban jobs will be twice as productive as equivalent jobs in the rural sector, according to ‘India’s Urban Awakening: Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth’, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute in early 2010.

This material produced by a consulting company has alas become the authoritative reference for India’s central ministries and planners; but McKinsey’s slanted and misguided output is well suited to fulfil the GDP growth mania of the ruling oligarchies and their banking and corporate accomplices. Nonetheless, adopting the tone that these wished for numbers will undoubtedly be marshalled through policy measures, McKinsey has projected that the population of India’s cities will increase from 340 million in 2008 to 590 million by 2030 – 40% of India’s total population.

This is the substance of my contribution to the latest instalment of the excellent journal, Agenda, published by the Centre for Communication and Development Studies through its Infochange development news website. See the full article here.

Infochange_Agenda_urbanisation“In short,” stated the report by this reckless consulting firm, “we will witness over the next 20 years an urban transformation the scale and speed of which has not happened anywhere in the world except in China. Urbanisation will spread out across India, impacting almost every state. For the first time in India’s history, the nation will have five large states (Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Punjab) that will have more of their population living in cities than in villages.” This is indeed the trend for these states as it is also for Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Haryana.

The expectation is that as India’s cities expand, India’s economic profile will also change. In 1995, India’s GDP was divided almost evenly between its urban and rural economies. In 2008, urban GDP accounted for 58% of overall GDP. By 2030, according to the McKinsey report’s calculations, urban India will generate nearly 70% of India’s GDP. Such a transformation, if it comes to pass on the lines that global financial and consumer actors want, as India’s major ministries (commerce, industry, finance, food processing, agriculture) and its planning agencies want, is expected to deliver a steep increase in India’s per capita income between now and 2030 wherein the number of middle class households (earning between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 10 lakh a year) will increase from 32 million to 147 million.

Blocks of new apartments being completed on the outskirts of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The blocks are crammed together by the builders to exploit all the available floor space without consideration for hygiene, ventilation and green space. These flat owners will install hundreds of air-conditioners in these flats to lower the indoor temperature, and this hideous group of eight and more ugly buildings will when occupied alter the micro-climate of what only recently were valuable wetlands.

Blocks of new apartments being completed on the outskirts of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The blocks are crammed together by the builders to exploit all the available floor space without consideration for hygiene, ventilation and green space. These flat owners will install hundreds of air-conditioners in these flats to lower the indoor temperature, and this hideous group of eight and more ugly buildings will when occupied alter the micro-climate of what only recently were valuable wetlands.

This transformation is at the heart of the infrastructure and services obsession which is reshaping the next version of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The McKinsey estimate is that to meet urban demand, India needs to build 350-400 km of metros and subways every year, and that between 19,000-25,000 km of road lanes would need to be built every year (including lanes for bus-based rapid transit systems), an ambition that denies altogether the impacts on land resources, on the destructive dominance of the automobile industry and proves the lie of India aspiring to a low carbon way of life.

From a reading of the early results of the 66th round of the NSSO, ‘Key Indicators of Household Consumer Expenditure in India, 2009-10’, for the urban population, in all income deciles including those that comprise the urban poor, the situation is already grim. Bhiwani in Haryana (population: 197,662), Bhind in Madhya Pradesh (197,332), Amroha in Uttar Pradesh (197,135) and Hardoi also in Uttar Pradesh (197,046) are four urban centres whose populations are at the median of those towns in India whose inhabitants number over 100,000. The average number of children in each (in the 0-6-year age-group) is 23,890.

Based on the recommended daily dietary allowance calculated for an Indian vegetarian diet by the National Institute of Nutrition, India, the minimum annual demand of each of these four urban centres is: cereals and millets, 43,124 tonnes; pulses, 9,122 tonnes; milk and milk products (kilolitres), 33,172; roots and tubers, 22,115 tonnes; green leafy vegetables, 11,057 tonnes; other vegetables, 22,115 tonnes; and fruits, 11,057 tonnes. Whether through the lens of municipal services provisioning or as a consumer project, urban administrations rarely plan for the food required by their citizens – its sources, costs and alternatives that can help establish a nutrient cycle between urban consumption and rural producers.

‘Give us this day your markets’

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Handing out food packets at a rally

Handing out food packets at a rally. With rising food prices, this could become a common sight in India's cities and towns.

The interests of US agribusiness and food exporters is being strenuously supported by a new report from the US International Trade Commission (USITC), released in November 2009, on ‘India: Effects of Tariffs and Non-tariff Measures on US Agricultural Exports’. The report has argued that India’s agricultural tariffs are keeping out American exports, that such obstruction is a concern to the USA, and that removal of these tariffs can result in a leap of up to 60% in US agricultural exports to India.

The USITC report has said: “Despite robust US agricultural exports worldwide, US exports to India are limited, both in value and in the range of products. In 2008, India received less than one-half of 1% of total US agricultural exports and ranked 39th among overseas markets for US agricultural products. Moreover, US agricultural goods accounted for only 6% of the Indian agricultural import market in 2008, compared to an 18% share of global markets.” The report has pointed to what it calls India’s “sizable and growing middle class” which is “expected to reach 500 million by 2025, which includes many affluent urban consumers interested in Western-style foods” as offering great potential for US agricultural business.

Rice fields in Goa

Rice fields in Goa. Why we need our rice to remain indigenous and locally available.

The report has complained that the “low level of US agricultural exports to India is a concern to the US agricultural community, business representatives, and policymakers”. The USITC report added that these groups view “high Indian tariffs and burdensome non-tariff measures (NTMs) as principal reasons impeding US products from entering the Indian market”. The study team stated that the USITC through this report has responded to a request by the Senate Committee on Finance for information and analysis on the effects of Indian tariffs and non-tariff measures on US agricultural exports and US agricultural firms operating in India.

There’s more in this report I wrote on the matter for Infochange India.