Thursday, October 8, 2009
An intriguing take on eating habits in rural Sri Lanka
Each time I look at the food that the rural person in Minneriya eats, I wonder what it is that has led them to such a diet. While one knows that price is an issue, I notice the level of imported food that is consumed there, and begs belief. Thankfully the rice consumed is local, but always white and devoid of nutrients. Even though I grow red rice, the family that live on the land only eat white rice, and Nadu (parboiled long grain rice) is the dish of choice, usually for all three meals. The current retail price is Rs65 a kg of Nadu.
They then may have a fried onion dish, where the Red Onions are imported from India, the retail price of which at present is Rs 100kg (lately we have got consignments of red onions from Jaffna, but the wholesale mafia have not allowed prices to come down) Another favored dish is Dhal, which is imported from Australia and carries a price tag of Rs 225 a kg which I am not certain includes a government tax (I know as I have a retail shop for which I buy this in bulk) Another is a potato curry where the imported potato from Pakistan is about Rs20 less than the Up Country potato of Sri Lanka. The current price of this imported potato is Rs70 and this includes tax too. Tinned fish in SL is referred to as Salmon and is also consumed even though the current price is over Rs200 as it includes a significant government tax. We are also a major consumer of Big Onions that currently are locally produced these last two months only, as the harvests have just come in, and are just once a year, and cannot be stored as well as the Indian varieties. The price is low at present at about Rs60 a kg, where as normally once the local season is over will rise a further Rs20 for the Indian ones that have a tax of about Rs30 a kg.
I just bought a 50kg bag of Sugar for my retail shop, and it cost me Rs 88 a kg. This is from Brazil, the world’s largest Sugar producer, and as the Indian crop has failed the Sugar prices are on their way up with little stopping the sweet tooth of the locals, who still drink their plain tea with oodles of sugar. I retail the sugar at Rs95 a kg and I believe even this carries a tax. SL only produces 10% of its Sugar requirement and I am told we are one of the highest per capita consumers of sugar in the world. (Remember kasippu/moonshine and arrack production requires a phenomenal amount of sugar too)
As a dairy farmer, I still find it hard to convince the buyers of imported powdered milk from New Zealand, that my milk is healthier and more nutritious. A 400gram pack now retails around Rs225 and carries with it another hefty tax of about Rs80 a pack. I would appreciate any comments from one who knows the breakdown of the yield from all the taxes from each of the food-stuffs I have mentioned above.
Last but not least, is the wheat flour, which is made from imported wheat by two producers, with Prima being by far the largest from their factory in Trincomalee. I purchase it wholesale at Rs70 a kg and retail at Rs80 a kg and I am told that carries a high tax too. The bread I sell in the shop, which is delivered fresh to me twice a day is at Rs40 a loaf.
Therefore, I am convinced that our rural dweller, eats imported food, on which he pays high indirect taxes, which is a higher proportion of income than a wealthy urbanite’s.