Families in India are struggling to choose between basic needs like nutrition and education as food inflation rapidly rises.
Consumer food inflation — the cost of buying food — hit 14.12% in December, the highest in six years, according to Scroll.in. Staples like dried legumes, rice, flour, and vegetables all cost between 10% and 30% more than they did in October 2019. For some families, the increase means they now have to decide between feeding their children or paying for school.
In most of India, produce prices have risen due to excessive climate change-induced heavy rains that damaged crops. Grain prices, however, are up because the government is storing higher quantities of them than necessary in case of emergencies, experts say.
The Kamle family, who live outside of Mumbai, said the fish that they eat one a week skyrocketed from 100 rupees (around $1.40) per kg to ($2.80) per kg in just two months, according to Scroll.in. At this rate, they cannot continue to pay for food, their son’s current education, and extracurriculars, while saving for college.
In recent years, more Indian families like the Kamles are opting to place their children in private schools where they believe they will receive a better education than in government schools, even if they can’t necessarily afford it.
To keep up with school tuition, the Kamle family has been forced to dip into their savings and their son has had to stop attending certain school activities. While they do not want to sacrifice nutrition for education, they have recently cut down on eating vegetables to minimize expenses.
The Tambe family has also decided to reduce grocery costs and other expenses to keep up with their children’s school tuition, according to Scroll.in. The family is stretching meals to last longer so they can afford the supplies and materials their children need for school projects.
Even without having to deal with food inflation, keeping up with school expenses is hard enough for families living in poverty. The cost of school supplies, in addition to registration fees, uniforms, and books can cause some children to drop out, start late, or not attend at all.
“School fees and related costs tend to have a disproportionate impact on girls, as many parents value girls’ education less and are, therefore, less willing to pay for it,” according to the organization Human Rights Watch.
Families in India will likely continue facing difficult decisions between education and nutrition for months to come. Food inflation is expected to remain high until April when major crops come in, but food prices could still be affected after, according to economists.
While experts say a normal monsoon season would help reduce food inflation, heavy rainfalls already ruined summer-sown crops and stalled winter crops.