Price hikes of essential goods remain worrying

By Athirah Mohammad

Changes in prices of food, big or small, never failed to attract media attention as the price hikes of essential goods are a cause for alarm affecting Malaysians from almost every socio-economic group.

Recently, social media has been flooded with complaints about steep increase in prices of vegetables, bread, eggs and other basic food items, which contributed to a higher cost of living.

Can you imagine the fear of not being able to afford groceries to feed our own families? If you are living in a family which never had to struggle absorbing the additional cost, consider yourself fortunate because the same can’t be said for some, particularly Malaysia’s B40 group.

When the recent statement about the possibility of price hikes involving chicken that could happen soon was released, many social media users questioned the logic behind such a decision.

They were very upset, concerned about how consumers might even need to fork out more of their hard-earned money to buy chicken that is expected to go up in price early next month.

Following this issue, the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister said this was because many poultry farmers are burdened with hikes in operating costs and the costs of imported animal feed.

The price hike is commonly attributed to limited supply due to lower domestic production as a result of unfavourable weather, pricier inputs, higher operating costs, manpower shortages, and higher import costs.

With that being said, it is a challenge to address the issue as the sources of the problem were largely the result of the pandemic that disrupted global supply chains and production systems.

This troubling issue has led consumer groups to urge the government to implement the price control mechanism as an ongoing process.

While economists contend that market forces should decide the price of goods and services, including essential food items, many believe this is a flawed argument given that the most vulnerable segments of our working population are still stuck in the low and middle-income groups.

Even though the Malaysian Family Maximum Price Scheme (SHMKM) has been extended until February as part of the government’s efforts to stabilise the price of necessities and ensure adequate supply in the market, Malaysia’s low-income group still remains the most affected with these skyrocketing prices of essential goods. That is the reality.

This inflation is very irritating to the fixed and low-income sections of the workforce. And with the pandemic, B40 and M40 families have much in common now, especially in terms of the diminishing real value of their take-home salaries.

For the jobless, the price pressures put even substantially more suffering upon their standard of living, having to survive with their pitiful meagre savings.

Twitter users were upset with the food price hikes and apparently got attention. (Translation: Very sad. Just got a salary, paid rent for houses, cars and other bills. Then I bought some groceries which I chose the most economical. Go back and look at my wallet, only RM100 left to survive until the end of the month. Feels very impacted with the skyrocketing prices of essential goods this time. Muffled heart when I see the faces of my children and wife. I chatted with a friend earlier, and was very shocked with the increase in prices of goods. Just got a salary of RM3k, buying chicken, vegetables, rice, oil and eggs only, how much is left. How for those who got lower salaries. And suddenly read this tweet. be patient, strive and keep praying that God will bestow wealth.)

To my mind, considering the above scenario, the need for government intervention to address this issue is imperative.

If not, the possibility of food prices remaining high until after the Chinese New Year holidays, may lead to growing food insecurity. Doesn’t this mean that food insecurity is also a cause of malnutrition?

According to the Deputy Education Minister, 25 percent of children in Malaysia were either underweight or stunted because of poor dietary habits, while another 20 percent were overweight or obese due to inappropriate dietary choices. They hail from low-income families who struggle to obtain nutritious food.

In fact, the pandemic has caused the number of the undernourished in Malaysia to rise, particularly among the Orang Asli, the low-income and welfare-recipient households, and the elderly.

Do we want these vulnerable groups to remain caught in the poverty-nutrition trap?

For many, 2021 has been the toughest year in memory. For sure, everyone yearns for a better quality of life in Malaysia by placing hope in the government to be better prepared and ready to lead.

Thus, the government needs to take tangible actions to prioritise food security and the availability of nutritious food at reasonable prices as we strive to build a healthier society.

On the price changes, it should be decided by the authorities especially in the current environment. How are we going to achieve the goal of a healthier Keluarga Malaysia if prices of essential items like chicken, eggs and vegetables continue to remain sky-high? ***

(This article is written as part of individual assignment series for Feature Writing class)

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