INCREASING food prices are perhaps the last thing that people, especially those falling in the low-middle-income bracket in a pandemic-hit economy, need. But that is precisely what they are getting in spite of the repeated official rhetoric against the ‘mafias’. For more than one year, rapidly increasing inflation, particularly the runaway prices of food items, has become the new norm in the country. Even though CPI inflation has come down to around 9pc during the last two months after peaking to over 14pc in January, the pace of increase in food prices continues to test the economic pain threshold of low-income groups. Consequently, a vast majority of people are finding it hard to manage their already impoverished lifestyles because of their growing daily expenditure on food items.
Data from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics for the month of October shows that rural food inflation rose much more rapidly when compared to the urban food price hike. Food prices in the urban areas had gone up by 13.9pc and by 17.7pc in the rural areas, according to the published data. Initially, food inflation was pushed by the increasing shortage of wheat and sugar in the country. However, the current wave of inflation is mostly driven by the sharp hike in prices of fresh vegetables such as potatoes, onions and tomatoes, as well as items like pulses, eggs, etc that are used on a daily basis by the low-middle-income segments of the population. The State Bank of Pakistan has in recent months repeatedly pointed out that supply-side constraints and disruptions are to blame for this crippling increase in food prices, which have almost everyone worried. But despite being aware of the problem, we have yet to see a strong effort on the part of the government to address the issues that have been responsible for driving the prices upwards. It is an indictment of the rulers of the day when citizens do not have enough to feed their families.
Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2020