High prices of pulses may affect nutrition security: study

A worker unloading toor dal bags at a stock yard in Gollapudi near Vijayawada.K.V.S GIRIKVS Giri

A worker unloading toor dal bags at a stock yard in Gollapudi near Vijayawada.K.V.S GIRIKVS Giri  

‘After lockdown, all food groups witnessed a spurt in prices’

Food habits during COVID-19 may have shifted from diverse and nutritive diets to staple foods such as wheat and rice as the prices of vegetables, pulses and eggs rose sharply after the lockdown while those of cereals remained relatively stable, according to a new study by the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition in New York.

The study, “Pandemic Prices: COVID-19 price shocks and their implications for nutrition security in India,” authored by Payal Seth, Prabhu Pingali and Bhaskar Mittra, was launched earlier this month.

It analyses prices of cereals (wheat and rice) and non-cereals (onion, tomatoes, potatoes, five pulses and eggs) in 11 tier-1 and tier-2 cities from March 1 to May 31 compared to the same period last year. It uses weekly-level retail data from the Department of Commerce Affairs of the Union government and wholesale prices from the National Egg Coordination Committee. The nationwide lockdown was imposed from March 25.

The study revealed that following the lockdown all food groups witnessed a rise in prices compared to 2019, but the rise in prices was higher for non-cereals compared to cereals. After the lockdown was lifted, prices of cereals, eggs, potatoes, onions and tomatoes stabilised quickly while those of protein-rich pulses continued to remain high.

Wheat price

Retail wheat and rice prices were either stable or cheaper than weeks preceding the lockdown as well as same time last year. Compared to last year, the potato price was as high as 30-90% in several cities but stabilised by the first week of May; the price of onions was as high as 200-250% immediately after the lockdown in some States and stabilised by April end, and higher in some cases; and tomatoes were higher compared to pre-COVID-19 period but began to show a downward trend. The wholesale prices of eggs show that they fell initially (authors argue it was because of fear of coronavirus through poultry), increased by March end and then stabilised two months later.

Prices of pulses rose and continued to remain higher than the pre-COVID-19 levels — arhar (tur dal) was up by up to 45%, red lentil (masur dal) by 20-50%, moong dal by 20-80% gram dal ranged from 10 to 40% and urad dal by 0-80%. “The relative stability in cereal prices and enhanced prices of pulses will most likely distort spending and consumption decisions. This will perpetuate reliance on a staple-based, protein-deficient diet. The government can ensure the provision of supplementary protein...,” it recommends.

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