Monday, December 28, 2009


A recent report from Bangalore highlights the sorry plight of families with fixed income confronted by galloping prices for staples like rice, wheat, etc and fruits and vegetables such as Banana, Orange, Mosambi, Capsicum, Cabbage, Beans, Brinjal, Cucumber, Tomato etc. The market prices of many of these food materials have jumped by 50% to 100% for no apparent reason. It may be true that the truant Monsoon, causing drought in some parts of the country, could have played a role but it is incorrect to blame inadequate rains for the market distortion. While many consumers may get themselves adjusted to the ground reality for short periods, the consequences of such run away inflation can cause serious consequences to the health of the population. What is intriguing is that the procurement prices of most of these food materials are a fraction of the retail price raising the inevitable question as to who is cornering the major share of the retail price.

According to nutritional experts fruits and vegetables must be consumed as an essential part of a balanced diet and only such eating practices will keep many of to day's health disorders at bay. But if the current trend continues it is likely that many families will cut down on purchase of these vital protective foods to adjust their food budget. Is it not an irony that on one hand great efforts are being made to promote increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and inculcate the habit amongst children and youngsters while on the other hand nothing worthwhile is done to control the unjustified increase in retail prices? Lot of hope was raised by the National Horticulture Mission launched in the present 5-year Plan, the programs of National Horticulture Board and the Fruit and vegetables project of NDDB started in early eighties of the last millennium. But as a country India seems to have failed its citizens in providing nutrition security.

There is a considered view amongst some impartial observers that the reason for the price increase is solely due to the market manipulations indulged by the retail trade. Establishment of Agricultural Marketing Yards is supposed to improve the transparency in the dealings between traders and the farmers but the results are contrary to the expectations. With organized retailing taking its roots in the country, one would expect more uniform prices for perishable commodities since these players have the wherewithal to establish effective supply chains across the country and large scale storage infrastructure. There is a nagging suspicion that improved cold storage facilities in the country could have helped some of the retailers to manipulate the market to derive highest returns for their produce. Earlier low prices used to be prevalent in growing regions but to day high prices have pan India foot prints. Import of fruits and vegetables and retailing them at high prices have again distorted the prices of local produce because of the rising purchasing power amongst many consumers.

Added to this, the galloping prices of pulses, the only source of proteins for the poor and the impoverished population, are debilitating the strength of this country at its foundation. Is it a hopeless condition for which there is no solution? One wonders what prevents the government to take this situation seriously and do some thing radically to overcome the same within a time frame? Of course imports can serve to buffer the prices to some extent but this can at best be a short term measure. It is time that "Pulse Emergency" is declared in the country and a long term strategy is drawn to solve this in 5-10 years time. Sure food technology can find a way to expand the availability of protein products looking, tasting and nutritionally like traditional dals from oil seed meals which will go a long way to supplement the natural dals. It is possible that "designer" dals can be made at a fraction of a cost and such low cost products will naturally attract low income populations for their survival. If rice and wheat can be made available at highly subsidized rates, there is no reason why man made dals also cannot be included in this low cost "food basket". Technological challenge involved in creating dal like products can be squarely faced by the public funded food R & D agencies if a clear mandate is given with proper funding.


No comments: