- After oil and flour price hike, now coarse rice costs Tk50 a kg
- Poor cook without oil, stop sending money to ancestral villages
- Some skimp on baby food, others cut protein off the menu
- Some sellers adopt shrinkflation, say the belt-tightening hurt their gains
Nurunnahar came to the market to buy rice and chilli powder on Sunday morning. But the shop that used to sell the food staple at Tk30 per kg was closed. Nearby two shops were asking Tk50 for per kg of coarse rice, but the woman could not afford it.
"I will have to borrow some rice from my neighbours today," Nurunnahar, who works as a house help, told The Business Standard while leaving the market with Tk10 chilli powder.
The market, located beneath the Bijoy Sarani-Tejgaon flyover, is known as "Gorib er Bazar" (bazar for the poor) – a market for vegetables and other grocery items salvaged from the nearby Karwan Bazar. Rickshaw pullers, day labourers, factory workers, house helps and low-income people are the main buyers of the market that offers thrown out and damaged vegetables at less than half of the regular price and essentials in Tk10 to Tk20 mini-packs.
But the recent rallying of food items has affected the market too, while rice has become the latest victim of spiralling prices even amid the peak Boro season. In the last one-week, coarse prices have surged by Tk5 to Tk50 per kg, while the government's subsidised sales of essentials have been also on hold.
The market has soybean mini-packs at Tk20 each that was at Tk10 earlier. There are damaged vegetables at Tk5 to Tk10 per kg. The financially-challenged customers of the bazar were found not considering the blemishes to be deal-breakers, instead they were haggling down prices referring to the defects.
Nurunnahar said she earns Tk5,000 a month. She used to send Tk1,500 to her two kids at the ancestral village, but had to stop it in the wake of the recent price hike. After soybean reaching to around Tk200 a litre, the house help said she now cooks without oil.
Another buyer at the market Kulsum Begum has adopted a different strategy to survive the price shock.
Kulsum used to work as a house help, but had to leave the job after giving birth to a baby boy. Now her auto-rickshaw driver husband is the lone breadwinner of the family.
"We pay Tk5,000 house rent, and contribute to my in-laws at the ancestral village. We have to make the ends meet with whatever is left."
Kulsum said now she has to skimp on the extra food items such as milk and eggs for her one-year-old boy.
Taslima Akhter, a seller at the open-air market, said she was also in trouble thanks to the price shock. "Many people are still coming and asking for Tk10 oil. But it is not possible to sell a mini-pack for less than Tk20 as soybean has reached Tk200 per litre."
Though mini-packs of lentils and other spices are still available at Tk10, Taslima said she had to reduce the amount of product as her current profit margin is nominal.
Monir Hossain works for a private first with a Tk15,000 monthly salary. His room at a Dhaka slum costs Tk3,000 rent per month. Monir's family includes two children, his wife and mother.
The family had to compromise with their protein intake to tackle the price shock. "I used to buy chicken twice a month, but now I can buy it once," he said.
Sultana Begum, a chicken seller at the market for eight years, said she never faced such a slumping sale anytime before.
"Although per kg chicken is at Tk160, people need oil and spices to cook it. Therefore, many are shying away from meat now," she commented.
Sultana's daily sales were Tk4,000-Tk5,000, but now it has come down to Tk2,000.
Mohammad Farhad, a fish seller at the market, his sales have been plummeting too. "People are now buying less, which means less sales and less profit."
Similar to the market, there is another low-cost kitchen market – Panchtola Bazar – in Dhaka's Merul Badda. The bazar offers chicken at Tk10-Tk15, fish Tk50-Tk100 and vegetables Tk5-Tk10 less than other markets.
For example, 1 kg of tilapia cost Tk170-180 in Dhaka's Rampura kitchen market, while the fish is at Tk140-Tk150 at Panchtola Bazar.
Habibur Rahman, a private firm employee, said he first came to the market a couple of weeks ago, and now has become a regular customer for monthly cost adjustments.