Reining in prices of kitchen market items

Sunday, 19 March 2023

Prices of most essential items have been soaring for many weeks now. First came the poultry price shock, with unheard of double digit price increase per kilogram (kg) of chicken on a weekly basis. Indeed, price of the Sonali variety of chicken (popularly known as Pakistani Cock) rose by Tk 50 per kg in the span of three days, and broiler saw incremental rise in price over a one-month period from Tk 180 to Tk 260 per kg. Precisely, how are people to get their protein intake when the broiler chicken had been the last resort, especially in the backdrop of now-expensive farm-produced fish, now with winter gone? The prices of vegetables are also going up.
According to a report published in this newspaper, people are now faced with the possibility of market manipulation that has put most varieties of white meat out of reach of the vast majority of the population. Low-income groups are in a desperate situation. One can cut down on protein intake if prices go beyond reach, but then people do need to eat something to live. Food sustenance cannot be put on hold, unfortunately. Consumer rights activists are rightly calling for government intervention to do something about the increasing cost of animal-based protein such as eggs, fish, and meat. An added assault coming from the soaring vegetable prices could potentially lead to intense resentment among consumers, a situation that can easily be avoided if measures are taken now.
People seen to have resigned to their fate, because of the fact that markets are controlled by big business where authorities have little say. One cannot discount the fact that before the onset of holy month of Ramadan every year, prices rise. But in preceding years, price rises were somewhat tolerable. This year, everything is intolerable. Prices manipulation is also somewhat of a norm nowadays. But that manipulation cannot be allowed to reach a level when price of essentials get to a stage that most people will go hungry. Parents are willing to go hungry to feed their young. But the double-digit price increase of every edible has pushed people to their limits. Explaining everything away on the Ukraine-Russia war is simply not going to cut it anymore. Precisely how much calorie-intake reduction can an average person sustain before becoming victim of malnutrition?
Vendors, reportedly, state broiler prices have increased by Tk 4,000-5,000 per 100/kg (kilogram), which means an increase of Tk40-50 per kg in one month. Lower production in farms and supply chain problems are blamed for the hike. While this view represents suppliers' claim, the fact is that the spiraling prices have resulted in drastic fall in demand, which ultimately hurts business too. Production costs have risen, particularly in the face of rising feed prices.
It is at such times that government intervention in market becomes mandatory. That time has surely arrived. People are being put through too much hardship and the month of Ramadan is just round the corner. Surely, it is in the interest of authorities to give people some reprieve during this month that is held in highest reverence by citizens. If supply of protein and vegetables is a problem, then authorities should take measure to beef up the same. Market forces will do the rest and prices will come down. Yes, wholesalers and retailers will complain. But it is not just about them, it is about the populace at large which needs immediate relief and sometimes, hard decisions must be taken for the greater public good.