KARACHI, Jan 1: Consumers paid higher prices for wheat flour varieties, rice, some pulses, ghee and cooking oil, fresh and tetra milk, beef, poultry and some vegetables during the last one year.

A random price survey between Jan 1 last and Jan one, 2008, showed some decline in prices of items, but indicated that increase in a majority of essential items nullified the impact of falling prices on consumers’ daily and monthly spending budgets.

Only few people working in multinational companies or corporate sector might not have felt the pinch of paying higher prices owing to increase in their salaries, but a vast section of population suffered heavily on food inflation as their salaries did not rise at par with the corporate sector people.

The government had virtually done nothing to protect consumers’ interests or take any practical measure to curb rise in food prices.

It left the people at the mercy of market forces who in the absence of any effective price checking campaign fully utilised the situation by charging higher prices.

Even hoarding of various items to make windfall profit at the time of demand increased in the last one year, especially in wheat and atta.

Flour rates remained under pressure showing fluctuating trends in rates, but the government gave secondary importance to the rising wheat crisis.

First it allowed wheat exports despite the fact that crop was being harvested and no actual wheat crop size was determined. The government was sure to have a big crop, but later the wheat crop size remained short of expectations. In the meantime, exporters had shipped over 500,000 tons of wheat to various destinations, leaving the countrymen for bracing a possible wheat crisis.

Chairman, Karachi Wholesale Grocers Association (KWGA), Anis Majeed said every year consumers have been witnessing an increase in prices of essential items.

He linked the rising prices of food items to non serious attitude of the government in raising the local production of various crops. As a result, dependence on the import had been rising. The prices of various items in international markets have been rising, therefore, consumers will have to bear the burden on paying more on imported items.

He said the government is not serious in taking drastic steps in to promote agriculture. Unless the country becomes self sufficient in local production, the end-users would continue to receive shocks in shape of rising prices.

Domestic rice prices showed a record increase in the last one year which never happened in the country’s history.

Again the private sector made bulk shipment of quality rice to various countries after getting fair prices, thus leaving the consumers to rely on low quality rice at higher prices.

The retailers fully cashed in on the situation mixing the low quality with some high quality and charged substantial rate.

Rising palm oil prices in Malaysia and Indonesia provided severe shock to consumers in the shape of rising prices of branded ghee and cooking oil.

The producers increased the prices five to six times since September 2006. With no respite in palm oil prices, ghee and cooking oil will further become costlier.

It is true that increased utility charges and domestic oil prices have pushed up production cost, but the government did not check at the manufacturing level the intensity of real impact on prices made by the producers.

Poultry prices also remained on the higher side. General Secretary, Karachi Wholesalers’ Poultry Association (KWPA), Kamal Akhtar Siddiqui, attributed the increase in prices to rising cost of production following increase in feed rate to Rs975 per 50 kg bag as compared to Rs735 in January last year.

He said that production cost on a live bird now comes to Rs15-17 per bird.

After various incidents of bird flu in the last one year, poulty people have not made any fresh investment, he added.

Beef prices also surged as meat sellers linked the increase to rising smuggling of live animals and their meat to neighboring countries.

On the milk sector, the government did not check frequent increase in both fresh and tetra milk rates. The city government had started holding discussions with tetra milk producers in March 2007, but it failed to make any headway.

Only fresh milk retailers were grabbed for overcharging, but dairy farmers and wholesalers were not checked.

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