A mother of three, Choki Wangmo, was aghast a few weeks ago as she purchased a 4.5-liter soya bean oil jar at the vegetable market in Thimphu. She had to pay Nu 680 for the oil jar, which she reminisces about paying just Nu 410 before the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is, meanwhile, not just edible oil, whose prices have soared in the markets. There has been a spike in food prices and the costs of food, groceries and household supplies, which have increased since the Covid-19, are only going up.
Local vegetable prices have also been on the rise in the country. Some residents, as a result, have no option than to buy what they can. This is especially true for the low-and-middle-income families.
Further, we have seen the price of petrol and diesel in the country increase again. Unfortunately, fuel prices have been increasing since January this year. Today petrol is priced at a high of Nu 74.91 per liter in Thimphu, while diesel’s price jumped to Nu 72.80 per liter.
However, the spike in prices of food and other essential items is not just happening here in Bhutan. Global food prices are going up as well.
According to the experts, a combination of higher costs to produce, process and distribute food, an increase in automation and other measures such as physical distancing and the use of protective gear and training, along with reduced capacity during the Covid-19 are factors contributing to higher food prices.
While the soaring food prices may not be much of a problem for the affluent section of the society, it has become a challenge for especially those whose lives and livelihood have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fortunately, the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu in the form of income support has come as a rescue for many from hunger and starvation.
An undeniable fact for now is many of our urban residents don’t live and have the choices they had before the pandemic. They are more mindful of what they are spending on and why they are doing so. The economic hardship has adversely affected their everyday life.
The government on the other hand expresses its helplessness when it comes to regulating prices in the market; often citing that the prices in the market are self-determining and would be determined by the so-called demand and supply.
However, it becomes pivotal too for the government to intervene when prices have soared so much that it starts hitting the most vulnerable populations of the country. At least the government can ensure that farm gate prices of agricultural produce are followed and that there is no price manipulation of goods in the markets.