Abdul Gani Ansari, a farmer from Muktikhola in Sunamganj’s Bishwamvarpur upazila, went to the haat – a market that sits once or twice a week in rural areas – in his neighborhood on Thursday and bought 1 kilogram (kg) of potatoes, half a litre of soybean oil and some other necessities. But, he could not manage to buy fish or meat. 

While talking to Prothom Alo over phone in the same evening, Abdul Gani said it would be rare in the past that he did not bring home fish on a haat day. But the scenario is now in stark contrast as he was in dire straits. He has even dropped his regular buying of fish and having snacks at the local tea stalls.  

The farmer explained his ordeal, saying he meets family expenses throughout the year with the paddy produced in a season. This time, he received 50 maunds of paddy, which is half of the previous year. But the commodity prices have risen greatly. 

Abdul Gani said many families in his village are going through the same situation. Some farmers received lower amounts of paddy due to empty husks and crops destroyed in flood water.   According to a World Food Programme (WFP) survey, people are suffering the most in two divisions in Bangladesh – Barishal and Sylhet. The number of poor is higher in Barishal while a terrible flood hit Sylhet this year. 

Some 88 per cent of respondents to the WFP survey cited rising commodity prices as the biggest blow to them in the past six months. Prothom Alo asked some families how they are doing amid the high commodity price. They said that they are trying to cut costs in various ways to get through the tough time.

Zakir Hossain, a private jobholder residing in the capital’s Uttara area, leads a two-member family with his monthly income of Tk 45,000. He spends Tk 10,000 to pay the monthly installments of a loan. 

Zakir said the remaining of Tk 35,000 could not bring comfort to his family as the monthly expenses jumped by Tk 5,000 to 6,000 in the meantime. But his salary remains stuck at the same figure. 

Asked about how he copes with the extra expenses, Zakir Hossain said he loved traveling, but refrained from that nowadays. He buys hardly ever buys beef and takes fish occasionally.  

“The pressure of the price hike came earlier. But it is high now due to the rise of costs in all sectors, let alone the daily necessities,” he told Prothom Alo. 

Nasima Akhtar works in a garment factory in Savar. She runs a three-member family, consisting of her two daughters and herself. Her monthly income is around Tk 14,000, including the overtime bills. 

But her expenses on daily necessities, transport fare and children’s education jumped by roughly Tk 3,000. 

Nasima said she slashed the grocery expenses and refrained from the routine hangouts on the weekends, to cope up with the situation.  

Meanwhile, some people posted a slight growth in their income amid the rising expenses. Mizanur Rahman, a car mechanic of Madhubagh in Dhaka, said his income rose by Tk 4,000 to 5,000, but the expenses jumped by Tk 6,000 to 7,000. 

The reasons behind the jump in expenses are the high commodity prices and sickness of the family members, he added.  

Giving some ways to reduce expenses, Mizanur said, “We try to compensate by consuming less good food."

Kabir Khalifa, a farmer from Galachipa in Patuakhali, or Abu Saleh, a mask seller in Dhaka's Meradia – all have quite similar stories to tell. There is no comfort in the life of the middle class while the low-income group are in crisis and the poor are struggling to have a full meal. The reason is also common – inflation reached an 11-year high (9.52 per cent) in August. 

The government is providing daily necessities at subsidised prices to 10 million families through the family card scheme. The low-income people are receiving rice and flour at low prices. 

But the concerned persons said the authorities should widen the range of the service. All sectors have been affected by the record hike in fuel prices. The WFP survey said some 64 per cent of families bought food on credit in August.

Selim Raihan, an economics department professor of Dhaka University, said the historical analysis shows that people try to overcome the tiring time of high inflation.

The low-income people spend a large amount of their earnings to avail food. They become compelled to skip nutritious foods like protein and eat carbohydrates, the professor said, adding that continuation of the situation may lead to rise in birth of ailing children.