The cost of nutritious food in South Asia
This working paper (PDF) by the World Bank Group aims to assess the affordability of nutritious foods in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. The high costs of nutritious foods can worsen poor diets and nutrition outcomes especially among low-income households. Yet little is known about the spatial and temporal patterns of the costs of nutritious diets in South Asia, where malnutrition in multiple forms remains high. Results show that the cost of a nutritious diet is 38 percent higher in Sri Lanka compared to a basic food needs diet, in Afghanistan this is 15 percent. Moreover, results revealed that the price of a nutritious food basket varies more by season and has been increasing at a faster rate than the price of a typical food basket. This phenomenon is largely due to the variable cost of vegetables. The most energy-dense foods generally had the most stable prices, showing the least inflation, seasonality, and regional variation. These findings suggest that food security and agriculture policies need to focus more on nutrient-dense foods, which are relatively unaffordable throughout the year but particularly during price spikes in certain seasons and regions. Policymakers can reduce the cost and price volatility of nutritious diets by taking steps to reduce vegetable prices and their sensitivity to seasonal factors, and by improving the integration of markets particularly for vegetables and other perishable, nutrient-dense foods. Furthermore, results suggest that there may be strong economic reasons why consumers consume little of the most nutrient-dense foods: They simply cannot afford it. More policies must be implemented to improve affordability of vegetables, legumes, fruits, and animal-source foods.