Looking back, chickens have come a long way. Whoever coined those chicken-cross-the-road jokes has certainly left a lasting impression over the decades; an impression that these pitiful creatures- who simply content themselves by pecking at rice grains- lack the courage required to go by the traffic regulations and cross to the other side. Poor birds… condemned to an eternity of being the laughingstock for Mankind. However, times are sure looking up for our cock-a-doodle-doo friends. Given the strong inflation, they are well beyond the general consumer's budget. All we can do is dream of fried drumsticks, and greedily eye the creatures clucking away on the stall display, afraid to even ask the vendors of the price.
On a more serious turn, the focus is by no means on the chicken; rather it is on the hell that the public is being subjected to- namely, the unbridled and altogether ridiculous hikes in market prices, particularly of kitchen market items like fish, meat and vegetables. Things have gotten to a point where even the higher middle class, let alone the lower class, are finding it difficult to purchase the basic necessities.
In a free market economy, the price of a good is determined by the interaction of demand and supply. That is to say, its price depends on the extent to which people demand the product and how much is actually supplied by the producers. Consequently, a movement in either factor will cause shifts in price.
On the one hand, the demand has risen. Bangladesh has over the last few years derived benefits from its industrialisation, a strengthening manufacturing base and a healthy growth in the export sector. As a result, more jobs have been generated, pay scales have risen and more money has been circulating in the economy, leading to economic growth. Simply put, with higher income, people yearn for better lifestyles and demand more goods and services.
On the other hand, the supply has decreased. Foods are agricultural goods, and hence are heavily reliant on the weather. A poor harvest has meant poor supply in the market. Moreover, escalating price of imported fuel indicate higher costs of production, which in turn is being translated to the consumers in the form of higher prices.
With growing demand and short supply, prices have gone up.
Lately, the media and the general public have criticised the Government for its failure to bring the market under control. The Government is blaming the formation of cartels, whereby producers- instead of competing- collaborate to set higher prices, for the price shocks.
It is almost astounding what effect such petty-sounding economic theory can have on our day-to-day lives. At this stage, the prices are so shot and the inflation so high that even vegetables (like potatoes, onions, chilies, etc.) are a stretch on the budget. Meat, fish and poultry are almost impossible, unobtainable to most.
Abidur Rahman is a retired civil servant, and his family is run by his pension and contributions from his son who has recently joined a private bank. “These days, going to the bazaar has become a frustrating activity,” he says, “The prices are simply unbelievable. Everything you touch seems to be worth buying with gold. Running a family is so difficult these days, especially if you have to stay within a very limited budget.”
Rina Huq, a housewife, says: “We are very careful about how much we spend. We have strict monthly budgets for the family groceries. But for the last five or six months, things just have not been working out. Although we have increased our budget, it still seems that we can no longer buy as much as we once did. Even a few months back, I used to spend about Tk.6000 for my monthly bazaar; now, I can hardly go below Tk.8000.”
Shirley Amin works in a local NGO and manages a family simultaneously. “Rice is extremely expensive,” she says, “I am finding it difficult to keep buying 'kataribhog' rice, and I think there might soon come a point where I will not be able to afford it at all.” She also talks of her children: “They love chicken, and my youngest daughter demands chicken in every meal. But it is getting so pricey that we are planning to cut back on having chicken to two to three days a week at most.”
Low-income earners are suffering the most from this vicious upward trend in price. Muhammad Rafiq, a chauffer in a Gulshan apartment, says, “Our incomes are still the same, but the prices are rising. How are we supposed to live and feed our families? I can no longer buy fish. Tell me, are these high prices justified?” Pictures are yet harsher down the income hierarchy, and the evil of these atrocious price overhauls is going headfirst for rickshaw pullers, small-scale vendors, etc.
Even consumers on the very high end are trying to hold on to their bulging wallets and attractive bank balances. Arman Siddique, a corporate executive, says: “Till now, life was pretty much comfortable for me. But nowadays prices are so high that I am starting to get worried. For instance, hosting dinner parties at home are becoming increasingly costly. Plus, dining out or lunch with clients and corporate partners do no less to strip you off your cash.”
On an endnote, the market is on fire, when price is concerned. The fire spreads oblivious to people's miseries. And unless the authorities do something, it can get worse, primarily owing to the upcoming month of Ramadan when the producers are met with a significant boost in demand. Right now, all we can do is resound the much-made request to the Government to take some action in this regard. I am positive that no one would like to hear Nero's allegorical fiddle while the economy burns.
By Shahmuddin Ahmed Siddiky
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed