G. Prabhakaran

Even the upper middle class hit by the rising prices

PALAKKAD: The prices of most farm produce have sharply increased in the district, but the farmers have not got more money in their hands. They spend more on food and other essential commodities as others in these inflationary times.

For instance, the prices of rice and coconut oil have gone up, but the growers are not getting even half the price each commodity commands in the open market.

The price of rice should not have increased in Palakkad, as the district produces more grain than what its population needs. However, private traders bought paddy here and took it to the neighbouring Tamil Nadu only to be returned to the district and sold at higher prices.

This happens because paddy cannot be effectively procured or stored here. The State government procure the produce in a slow and ineffective way, leaving the farmers with no option but to sell it to the traders. So, there has been a shortage of rice in the open market.

Added to that was the unexpected heavy rain in the summer which destroyed paddy in thousands of hectares of land. This reduced the flow of grain into the market. Capitalising on this was hoarders who jacked up the price by not releasing the required quantity of rice into the market.

Palakkad produces far below its requirements of vegetables and other food items. But the district is close to Tamil Nadu and hence the cost of transporting these commodities is lower. But the prices are still high. One assumption is that a lobby has been working to pay less to the producers in Tamil Nadu and charge the consumers here high.

All upwards

The market price for the Matta variety of rice is between Rs. 20 and Rs. 23 a kg. But the farmer here gets Rs. 8 or Rs. 9. The procurement price fixed by the government is Rs. 10.

The price of coconut has fallen sharply, while that of coconut oil has risen from Rs. 60 in November to Rs. 78 now. One coconut fetches just Rs. 3 or Rs. 4 for the farmer. But a tender coconut is sold in the market at Rs. 10.

The price of rice has gone up sharply in the market during the past three months. The Matta red variety, selling at Rs. 16 a kg in May 2007, now goes for Rs. 20 to Rs. 22. The price of the Ponni variety rose from Rs. 17 to between Rs. 21 and Rs. 22 during the period. Raw rice, which was selling at Rs. 16 in August 2007, now goes for Rs. 20.

Tomato, priced at only Rs. 3 a kg at the Kozhinjampara wholesale market a few months ago, now commands Rs. 30 a kg. The price of drumstick has gone up from Rs. 10 to Rs. 40.

The banana price has risen from Rs. 16 to Rs. 22. The price of beans has risen from Rs. 22 in March to Rs. 28. Green gram was selling at Rs. 44 a kg in March, but the price now stands at Rs. 48.

Where the money goes

This has upset the family budget of every section of society, even the upper middle-class. A homemaker at Puthur here, N.V. Amma, said that her family of four which had been spending an average Rs. 875 a month on rice, pulses, oil and other groceries before the inflationary trend set in, paid Rs. 1,360 in March and Rs. 1,474 in April for the same shopping basket.

A schoolteacher in the town, Rethi Devi, said she spent Rs. 1,400 a month to buy rice, oil and other essential items when there were six persons in her house a couple of months ago, but now with only her husband and she, the outgo remained the same.

Muthalamthode Mani, a leading farmer of Chittur, said that the cost of cultivation had gone up. So had his family budget, as the price of every food or consumer item had gone up.

He said the benefit of increased price for essential commodities was cornered by middlemen and the companies that marketed agriculture produce after buying them at cheap prices from farmers.

Steps had not been taken to harvest the paddy cultivated in more than 60,000 hectares of land in the district. Farmhands or combine harvesters were unavailable. Neither the State government nor the local self-governments had come to the rescue of farmers in their hour of crisis.

No quick solution

Food and Civil Supplies Minister C. Divakaran told The Hindu here on Sunday that the government was ready to procure the entire paddy from farmers. It would consider the suggestion of creating grain banks in districts such as Palakkad where paddy and other food items were grown.

P.V. Vasudevan, economist, said the sudden spurt in the prices of almost all agriculture produce in the consumption market of the common man defied a quick solution.

The prices of essential articles had gone up earlier also. But this time, the complicated nature of inflation had disrupted the correcting mechanism. One reason was that there was worldwide inflation, attributed partly to falling production, diversion of grain for production of bio-fuels and so on. That, he said, does not adequately explain the sort of inflation India is facing now and Kerala in particular.

Kerala has never been a grain-surplus State. The present inflation is mostly due to the inefficiency of the distribution mechanism. A possible remedy lies in immediately building up grain banks in Palakkad as well as in other agricultural districts, he said.