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"It's expensive, so we eat less," said Seema Valmiki, 35, who is raising three children in New Delhi with her husband on his 6,000-rupee ($135) monthly income as a driver.
Valmiki can no longer afford meat, fruit or fish and has put off buying her children new school uniforms, toys and a bicycle.
"If we buy them fruit, we can't buy them food" like rice, dal and vegetables, she said.
In China, food costs rose 5.9 percent in April over a year ago -- a modest rate for a country that suffered 20 percent-plus inflation in 2008. But it was enough to prompt the communist government to try to reassure the public with pledges that prices will ease as the spring harvest comes in. It also threatened to punish price gouging in a new effort to cool inflation.
Even in moderately prosperous nations such as Venezuela, shoppers say they can no longer afford meat and scour markets for bargains.
In Argentina, soy production has taken over more than 32 million acres (13 million hectares) of grassland once used to raise cattle and replaced less profitable wheat and corn as well, driving up prices in supermarkets.
Argentina's government has responded with higher taxes, export limits, controls on supermarket prices of meat, wheat and corn, subsidies to food producers and pay hikes of 30 percent for union workers. The moves have temporarily eased the pain but beef producers have thinned their herds in response to government intervention and the price of meat has doubled in the last year.
"Before, we would eat meat three times a week. Now it's once, with luck," said Marta Esposito, a 45-year-old mother of two in Buenos Aires. "Tomatoes, don't even talk about it. We eat whatever is the cheapest."
Venezuela's 30.4 percent inflation is among the world's highest. The oil-rich country is a major food importer and its bolivar has tumbled against the dollar, forcing up prices in local markets. In April, food prices rose 11 percent over the previous month.
The Venezuelan government has imposed price controls and arrested some shopkeepers for violating them. But the controls have led to shortages of beef, sugar, corn meal and butter, forcing the government to allow some prices to rise by 20 percent this year.
Elsewhere, rising prices highlight a more basic problem: making sure farm productivity keeps pace with burgeoning populations.
India's food prices were up 17 percent in April over a year earlier but the government hopes normal rainfall this growing season will increase supplies. The rise has been driven in part by growing demand from the rural poor, who can afford to spend more on food thanks to government debt-relief and job-creation programs.
Longer term, experts say India, with more than 1 billion people, has to speed up growth in farm production if it is to keep up with demand.
"Our capacity to feed every Indian is systematically declining with time," said Harsh Mander, who was appointed by India's Supreme Court to monitor hunger. "World markets can't bail us out."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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