11 days ago

Global price index drops, Bangladesh's skyrockets

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Food prices have globally declined in February for the 11th consecutive month, reports the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, which keeps a tab on the monthly international price index of food commodities. Bangladesh, contrary to this sobering trend, has been experiencing galloping prices not only of foods but also of all consumer goods including those most essential for personal health and hygiene including sanitation of living quarters. The decrease in FAO Food Price Index registered a nominal 0.6 per cent to 129.8 points from the January's 130.4 but it is as significant as 18.7 per cent from the average peak price index in March a year ago. 

When the winter vegetables ---perishable as they are ---flooded the market for about a month, those items did register comparatively lower prices. But with the Ramadan--- the month of fasting--- approaching fast, the kitchen market is heating up as if to explode. Many of the commodities and spices have become one and a half time costlier. A super shop has started selling beef in grams instead of kilograms considering perhaps the affordability of low-income people. But this initiative seems to be rather questionable because poor and low-income consumers are unlikely to shop in department stores or super shops.

However, this is quite symbolic of the general pattern of affordability at the bottom rung of society. In this capital city, there are a large number of people who are unlikely to feel the pinch of outrageous market volatility because they literally wallow in raw wealth. So, the pre-Ramadan meeting the commerce ministry ritually holds each year with the trading community in order to keep the prices of commodities stable is more of a show than substance.

If cereal prices are taken into consideration, wheat has registered marginal price increase globally but rice price has dropped by one per cent to counter it. Similarly, the rise in sugar price has been more than offset by a sharp fall in prices of vegetable oil and dairy products. Unsurprisingly, in keeping with the tradition of trading practices here, the food items that have become dearer in international market have become only more so and those marking price drops did not at all follow the downward trend. Even the latest slump in prices of fuel oils in international market is unlikely to reflect in their local price indices, least of all in the commodity prices which always have an excuse of costlier energy-induced higher production cost behind the unbridled rise. Cooking oil prices have globally declined by 3.2 per cent in February from January but in Bangladesh those have defied the government-fixed rates mostly arm-twisted to increase on more occasions than one. In the same way dairy products' prices registered a fall of 2.7 per cent but the rate pushed higher earlier shows no sign of coming down here. 

What is particularly significant is that meat prices globally remained more or less stable with pork registering higher prices. This translates into drop in other types of meat including the largest decline in poultry prices. In case of Bangladesh, it has been totally opposite to this with broiler chicken and eggs setting record price benchmarks ever. 

Bangladesh's case is not as pathetic as those of Ghana, Malawi and Zambia so far as domestic food outputs are concerned. But the country almost finds itself in the bracket of those nations in terms of inflation. This country is lucky to have its fertile lands and ever resilient and ready-to-learn farmers who are working wonder with cultivation of cereal and other crops. Even then it is the middlemen, the hoarders, the millers who deprive the growers of their reward by manipulating the market. Much of the market volatility owes to the black art of the parasitic class of society. The focus should be there to rein in the galloping horse of prices.

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