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A packet of bath (rice) is the staple of many of us, but how much does it cost to eat a buth packet these days? How does it compare to last year? Are Dhal and veggies more expensive this month than the last? Enter: The “Bath Curry Indicator”, a simple tool that tracks the prices of common food items that go into rice packets in Sri Lanka.
The concept is a Sri Lankan spin on the infamous “Big Mac Index” by The Economist. Like its original inspiration, the BCI is not strictly speaking an index: it simply tracks prices of a limited basket of goods that are consumed in Sri Lanka, and provides an indication of how much prices have changed over time.
The basket of goods we have chosen is reflective of what Sri Lankans eat (according to the 2016 Household Income Expenditure Survey). For weekly prices, we depend on the Central Bank’s Weekly Economic Indicators publication.
How could you use the BCI?
According to the 2016 survey, an average household spends approximately 30% of income on food and drink. So food prices are a major determinant of people's welfare.
Food prices are a fairly volatile indicator. It is not only dependent on seasonal and weather patterns, but it is also affected by policies. Being able to see monthly changes over time can help us see the effects of policy as they come into effect. (some policies have a direct or indirect effect on retail food prices).
Is this a measure of inflation?
No. Rather it indicates how the cost of this specific basket of goods have moved over a short period.
In Sri Lanka inflation is calculated using the CCPI or NCPI - (Colombo or National) consumer price indices. It tracks a large basket of goods and services that range from food to education. The CPI is a comprehensive method of calculating inflation to date, and this inflation value it measures is a useful indicator in assessing the country's macroeconomic conditions. There are some shortcomings in the current measures: they do not necessarily measure consumer reactions and preferences that change relative to price changes.
Although the overall inflation is low, food inflation has risen over the last year. According to the National Consumer Price Index, even though overall prices rose by 3.7% between January 2020 and January 2021, food prices rose by 5.9%.
The BCI does not attempt to measure inflation. It is a simple tool to show food price changes on a weekly basis using the official Central Bank data. At its core, it answers the basic question that seems to drive elections (and people during lunch time): how much does it cost to eat a good bath packet?