It is not just onion prices that are unsettling middle-class household budgets in Kerala. In one year, the prices of essential commodities like cereals, oils, pulses, spices, tubers and vegetables have shot up by up to 200 per cent.
The most troublesome increases are found in the 'fruits and vegetables' (under which is included onion), pulses and 'spices and condiments' categories. It is in the cereals and oil categories that the rise in prices is the least annoying.
The increase in the prices of various rice varieties are relatively marginal, at the most an increase of Rs 4 per kg over the year. Last year, after the floods, the increase was in the range of Rs 22-Rs 25 per kg. The government's effective market intervention strategies have managed to outfox the sinister designs of rice cartels in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh this year.
Yet, even if negligible, there has been a consistent increase in prices of cereals every month. The Civil Supplies Department had in October said that the prices would come down and settle by the middle of November. Belying the Department's prognosis, the prices had crawled up.
At the moment, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has adequate stock; there was record procurement this year. But now the unseasonal rains across the country and widespread destruction of farmlands have given rise to the fear that the FCI would not be able to achieve the procurement target of 416 lakh metric tonnes. If this is the case, prices will continue to inch upwards.
It is pulses prices that are behaving most unpredictably. Till October, pulses varieties except black gram (uzhunnu) looked fairly stable. All of a sudden, they have cut loose. Black gram varieties have shown an increase of Rs 14 in just a month. If it was Rs 107 a kg in November, it jumped to Rs 123 a kg this December. In a year, the prices have gone up by 40 per cent.
Green gram (cheru payar) prices too have gone up by nearly 15 per cent in a year. It was Rs 87 a kg last year. Now it is Rs 100 a kg. Compared to last month, green gram prices have shot up 4 per cent.
Supply shortage is said to be the cause. The latest figures of the Union Agriculture Ministry show that cultivable land for pulses has decreased by 12 per cent this rabi season (April-May).
December has witnessed the price of eggs soaring by nearly 10 per cent. The price of a dozen 'nadan' variety hen egg had shot up to Rs 85.50 from Rs 80 last month. However, sources said the increase in egg prices was normal during Christmas season.
Tea prices are generally stable, just a two per cent increase over a year. According to the Tea Board, this can be chalked up to a 2.77 per cent increase in tea productivity in the country.
Spices have done to inflation what they, when used in excess, do to favourite dishes. It has given it an intolerable pungency. The prices of small onion and garlic have shot up by nearly 250 per cent over a year, and chillies by nearly 50 per cent.
The heavy downpour in Karnataka and the devastation it has wreaked on chilly farming has to take the blame for the hike in chilly prices. Just when the supply fell, there was also a sudden spurt in demand for chilly from Telengana and Andhra Pradesh. The combination was lethal enough to jack up prices.
The dizzying rise of big onion prices is now a scary national legend. Its price has shot up by nearly 700 per cent in a year; from Rs 19.57 a kg to Rs 155 a kg now. After big onion (savala), it was the hike in the prices of garlic that was the most shocking. From just Rs 6.43 per kg last year it has rocketed to Rs 21.71 now.
Like in the case of big onion, unseasonal and devastating rainfall across the state has spiked garlic prices. Supply dropped precipitously in the case of both onion and garlic, pushing prices sky high.
Maharashtra, which accounts for a chunk of garlic and onion, suffered nearly double the normal rainfall between October 1 to November 6. Karnataka and Telangana, the other two onion-producing states, received 65 per cent more than usual rainfall.
The Union Government figures show that Maharashtra lost nearly 60 per cent of its onion produce. Karnataka 18 per cent, and Telengana 2 per cent. Besides, the incessant rain had also prevented onion farmers from reaching the onions they could salvage to the market
The higher-than-normal monsoon has also pushed up vegetables prices in the state. Vegetables that are cultivated in the state - mainly ash gourd (kumbalanga), brinjal, snake gourd (padavalanga), and ladies finger (vendakka) – have shown a 30 per cent increase in a year.
A top source in Horticulture Department said the vegetable prices would calm soon. In fact, the prices of kumbalanga, brinjal, padavalanga, and vendakka have fallen by 2 per cent in December.