Households feel the heat as cooking becomes expensive with rising food prices

Lal Bahadur Dangi remembers when he paid 5 rupees for a cup of tea. In less than a decade, the price has quintupled.

But Dangi hasn’t seen a raise in his salary for years. The unorganized sector, where most Nepalese earn their living, has been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Then fuel prices soared, putting many foodstuffs out of reach for low-income people. For these reasons, the current inflation bites deeply.

“Everything has become expensive from year to year. But this year the prices have reached exceptional levels,” said Dangi, who has worked as a porter at the Kalimati fruit and vegetable market for two decades.

“Our income has not increased. No way. It’s hard to make a living,” said Dangi, 46, from Rolpa, one of the most remote districts in mid-western Nepal.

A porter charges between Rs20 and Rs150 per trip, depending on load and distance. “It was the same rate five years ago,” said Dangi, who earns between 800 and 1,200 rupees a day.

Every morning, Dangi spends around Rs 40 for his breakfast: a cup of tea and a donut. “Lunch – which is dal, bhat and tarkari – costs 120 rupees,” Dangi said.

Prices of basic necessities rebounded last month, putting greater pressure on vulnerable households, according to a market study conducted by the World Food Programme. Prices for edible oil, wheat flour and pulses rose sharply, the report said.

Inflation in Nepal hit its highest level in 70 months in June. Consumer price inflation increased by 8.56 percent in June compared to 4.19% a year ago, according to a report by the Nepal Rastra Bank.

In the food and beverage category, the prices of ghee and oil increased by 22%, dairy products and eggs increased by 11.22%, and pulses and pulses increased by 9.13% in year-on-year.

“Inflation in Nepal has gotten out of control,” said economist Bishwambher Pyakuryal. “Many essential food products that we use are still not included in the food basket to calculate the consumer price index.”

High inflation has led to shrinkage, which economists say is a business strategy of cutting headcount to reduce quantity. Manufacturers give less for the same price – which people hardly notice – to run the business.

The World Food Program says that due to rising food prices over the period, the cost of the food basket – including rice, pulses, vegetable oil, eggs and vegetables – shows a persistent increase.

For example, the cost of the food basket increased from 70.2 rupees in April to 75.1 rupees per person per day in June 2022, an increase of 7%.

“This may put additional pressure on the ability of Nepalese households to access basic food items, which are essential for maintaining their food security and nutritional status,” the UN humanitarian agency said.

The global supply chain and market outlook points to continued disruptions, and it is expected that prices for these commodities could rise further in Nepal in the coming months.

People in the Asia-Pacific region are already cutting their lunch budget as it has become more expensive, especially in urban areas, according to international media reports. The trend has been dubbed “lunchflation,” which refers to the sharp rise in lunchtime meal prices.

In South Korea, people have started sharing tips for cooking a decent meal from leftovers to cut down on grocery expenses. In Singapore, people have started consuming stale or slightly spoiled but still quite edible food.

In Australia, people are reducing their food expenditure by eating less in restaurants and cooking more at home.

“As we stay in a room rented as a group, it is more economical for us to cook. We cannot imagine eating in restaurants,” said Dabal Singh Sunar, another porter.

As vegetable prices keep fluctuating, prices of other food items have skyrocketed, said Salina Bohara, who was shopping at Kalimati market on Friday evening.

“We have been forced to reduce our food budget by reducing the consumption of various items. We hardly go to restaurants these days.

Lunchflation has also entered the kitchen of a former minister.

“Despite being an MP, I only have one vegetable in a meal at home these days,” the former foreign minister said. Pradeep Gyawali recently. His comments have gone viral on social media.

“I, at least, am not able to buy two vegetables in one meal,” Gyawali said.

“I have been a minister and deputy for many years. If a Member like me cannot afford two vegetables for a meal, I wonder how people living below the poverty line and those working in the informal sector manage to support themselves these days -this.

While most people on social media criticized Gyawali for his “two vegetables” remark, the former foreign minister, speak in parliamentsaid he was trying to highlight the problem of inflation.

“Instead of discussing inflation, I was trolled,” Gyawali said. “How can this problem be solved if it is hijacked?”

Restaurant owners say they too have been feeling the heat of inflation for months. While some have already increased the prices of their menus, some are considering doing so.

“Although we have not increased the price of a simple meal consisting of dal, bhat and tarkari, we have slightly increased the prices of tea and momo, chow mein and other food items by Rs 10 per plate” , said the owner of a restaurant in Thapathali, Kathmandu.

Despite inflation affecting the lives of the majority of the population, observers say stakeholders are not doing enough.

“Inflation in the country is on the rise, but party leaders haven’t talked about it except a few,” tweeted Uttam Babu Shrestha, environmental scientist and researcher.

“There were protests in the past, but it seems there is no opposition now. There are no protesters in the streets. There are only leaders raised and nurtured by intermediaries, entrepreneurs and traders,” he wrote.

“Our market surveillance mechanism is sluggish,” said economist Pyakuryal. “Inflation caused a crisis in Sri Lanka. If our political leaders underestimate the current situation, it can cause political unrest beyond their imagination.

Hari Pangeni, spokesman for the Trade, Supply and Consumer Protection Department, agrees that food prices have risen sharply. But he says the department carried out regular inspections of the market to prevent hoarding and artificial price hikes.

“The department takes action on the spot if traders are found charging exorbitant prices,” Pangeni said. “However, since we have adopted an open market policy, the market determines the prices. But we investigate when the price increase is artificial.

Consumer rights activists accuse the government of failing to regulate the market and opportunistic traders are taking unfair advantage of the situation.

“Consumer rights have never become a priority for the government,” said Madhav Timalsina, president of the Consumer Rights Investigation Forum.

He said the government’s ad hoc decisions had caused inflation to rise.

The government has made it mandatory for importers to keep a 100% margin amount to open a letter of credit to import certain products and has also banned certain products by designating them as non-essential.

A recent Oxfam report titled enjoy the pain says that every 30 hours, a billionaire is born while almost a million people fall into extreme poverty.

The government should also benefit from higher prices, as seen in oil prices, consumer rights campaigners say.

“It’s the people who suffer,” Timalsina said.