Poor are greatly affected by rising food prices

Written By : CHARLOTTE PETERS. The rise in food prices is a global problem and there have been different reaction and responses to this crisis. Here in Fiji the interim
06 Jun 2008 12:00

Written By : CHARLOTTE PETERS. The rise in food prices is a global problem and there have been different reaction and responses to this crisis.
Here in Fiji the interim government has announced measures to tackle rising food prices as the problem is a serious one and is bound to affect every household.
The rise in food prices will affect everyone one way or another and many poor families who spend most of their income on food will not be able to cope if prices continue to rise.
In some countries the spiraling prices have triggered unrests and protests with some turning violent resulting in deaths.
The interim government continues to closely monitor this disturbing global trend and its broad guiding strategy is to ensure that short term policy measures in reaction to this global crisis are consistent with its long term objective of strong and sustainable growth.
Interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry said as an immediate response to the increasing price of world commodities the price control mechanism limits the sudden impact of these price rises on the domestic market.
He said currently 12 weeks notice must be given to the PIB in order for an increase in the price of a locally produced or manufactured good to be considered. As a result, the prices currently prevailing in the market are lagged in relation to the current world market price.
Mr Chaudhry said in the 2008 Budget, the interim government continued to assist low income earners by increasing the income threshold to $9000 which was then increased to $15,000 as an additional measure to ease the impact of rising prices to low income earners.
“A number of new allowances were introduced to assist families. The government extended the incentives for Small and Micro Enterprises (SMEs) by extending the scope to include dalo, cassava and other root crop producers and farmers.
“These farmers will now be exempt from income tax if their gross income is $300,000 a year. Further, duty on other basic food items like split peas was reduced from 15 per cent to 5 five per cent and other canned fish and white rice were reduced from 27 per cent to 15 per cent.
“In addition, duty on chicken, pork and beef was reduced from 27 per cent to 15 per cent. Most of these basic food items will now come in at zero duty from June 1, 2008 as a measure to ensure that basic food items continue to be affordable especially to the poor,” said Mr Chaudhry.
He said the interim government will look at strengthening its existing delivery mechanisms and sharpen its focus to mitigate the impact of surging food prices in the short term.
This it intends to achieve through encouraging the increase in domestic production of food products.
Mr Chaudhry has called on private companies and individuals to take appropriate measures to decrease the impact of rising prices.
Importers of food items he said could absorb a large part of the increases in food prices knowing that future prices were expected to drop, as evident from recent international releases.
“Government is also requesting individuals to review their spending habits and lifestyle towards spending on locally grown fruits and away from fatty and processed food items,” he said.
The interim government believes this is a good opportunity to revert and be more accustomed to consuming fresh, nutritious and local foods which are relatively cheap.
To combat this crisis, the President Ratu Josefa Iloilo called on the people to properly utilise their land and sea resources in order to ensure that food requirement is continuous and at a sustainable level.
Ratu Josefa said in light of the rise in food prices globally, people must make wise decisions in order to ensure that these would cushion the impact of rising food costs.
“There is an abundance of land in Fiji to be tilled and utilised and sea resources to be harvested and enjoyed, we must grow as much of our food requirement on a continuous and sustainable level,” the president said.
He said while the interim government has taken the necessary measures to cushion the impact of escalating costs of living on the poor and low income earners, the interim government alone could not carry the heavy burden of looking after the nation.
To cushion the plight of the ever rising cost of basic food items, the Ministry of Primary Industries launched a “Plant-Five-A-Day Campaign to educate people on the importance of backyard planting.
Permanent secretary Dr Richard Beyer said backyard gardening was something that people took for granted but during these difficult times we are once again reminded that growing our own food can help cushion the rising cost of food items.
“Starting a food garden in the backyard saves a lot of money and a family can grow produce such as root crops, vegetables and fruit trees for their everyday meals,” said Dr Richard.
The campaign he said aimed to create awareness and encourage urban dwellers to have a backyard garden for themselves not only to cushion the price hike but to reap the health benefits as well.
Interim Minister for Primary Industries Joketani Cokanasiga has advised his officers to emphasise the importance of planting “your own food” to battle the rise in food cost.
He said the ministry was conscious of the rising food cost and would continue to advise the public on farming practices to help them alleviate the dilemma.
Meanwhile Mere Tuinakoro 35 a housewife and mother of two said the increase in food prices has resulted in the family going without food items they normally had.
She said her husband the sole breadwinner was a casual labourer and the money he earned was barely enough to sustain them.
“Before we used to buy bread every day, now we buy bread twice a week. Sometimes we grate cassava for breakfast,” she said.
On weekends her husband goes fishing as they cannot afford to buy frozen food and have begun planting in their backyard for consumption.
Single mother and waitress Lora Degei said she used to spend about $50 on grocery shopping but this has been reduced to $30. She has had to cut down on other obligation and commitments in order to save money.
“Times are hard so I have to buy whatever I can with the little money I earn. I have started planting bele so we can eat greens which is very healthy,” she said.
Rusi and Tina Tiko said because of the high food prices they have cut down on their shopping to enable them to save money for their four children’s education.The couple said food items they normally purchased they don’t buy anymore and now work on a very strict budget hoping things would eventually get better.
Nancy Ali a housewife and mother of three said with food prices being so high they have reduced their shopping because they could not afford it.
“The prices are too high and wages so low. We used to buy a lot of frozen and tinned food but we have cut down because we can’t afford it,” said Mrs Ali.
She said this too has affected her children as they have had to go out without their snacks and goodies.

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