Worrying trend of declining food consumption

Published: 00:00, Oct 04,2020


AN UNSTABLE kitchen market and soaring goods prices have made it difficult for people with low and fixed income to survive during the COVID-19 emergency. Government efforts to stabilise the market remain ineffective as prices have steadily been on the rise. Traders have arbitrarily increased prices on various grounds, including supply shortage because of transport crisis caused by COVID-19 general holiday or flooding in the recent past. The standard variety of rice sold for Tk 50–52 a kilogram while fine varieties sold for Tk 60–65 a kilogram in Dhaka on Friday. Not only meat and fish are beyond the reach of fixed-income households, vegetables also sold for higher prices, with aubergine selling for Tk 70–80 a kilogram and okra for Tk 60 a kilogram. In such a situation of increased cost and reduced income, many people have cut down on food consumption. The impact of inequitable access to food will eventually affect nutritional status of a huge number of people unless the government takes effective steps to stabilise the kitchen market.

Several research have showed how the economic slowdown has affected people’s purchasing power and food consumption. In September, a World Bank report suggested that about 69 per cent of the households have cut down on their budget for food as their survival strategy during the emergency. In April, a BRAC Institute of Governance of and Development research said that 40 per cent of the poor and 35 per cent of the vulnerable non-poor have adopted a similar strategy to cope with the situation. All this while, the government’s market intervention was limited to open market sales programme, which was also suspended considering the risk of contagion from public gathering at OMS points. The government has also conducted occasional drives and fined traders and businesses for arbitrarily charging high prices. But besides such drives which are only episodic, a strong market monitoring is also needed to stop traders from hoarding food items and create an artificial crisis to increase prices. The indifference of the ministry concerned and the absence of market control are the main reasons for the unstable market.

An unstable market during the COVID 19 outbreak adds to people’s sufferings. The government must act immediately considering the alarming trend of a declining food consumption. Another public health crisis will, otherwise, follow the ongoing crisis. It must hold immediate drives against hoarding and put in place a daily reporting mechanism to help control prices and discourage traders from arbitrarily increasing goods prices. In the long run, the government must strengthen its market monitoring and regulatory mechanism.

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