People were cutting back on basic foods because they could not afford rising prices, with the very poor even going without bread, a staple food, said a report released in Pietermaritzburg yesterday.
The 2013 Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (Pacsa) Food Price Barometer report was released to coincide with World Food Day today. Pacsa is an NGO working towards socio-economic justice and transformation.
The report, compiled by Julie Smith and Mervyn Abrahams, was based on research from last September until last month on the prices of 32 basic foods from four different retailers that served the low income market.
The basket cost R1 509.34 and would feed a family of seven.
Smith said the food was divided into eight categories and went up in all except two: meat, which dropped by 10.8 percent, and salt and spices, which dropped by 9 percent.
Dairy and eggs went up the most, by 17.8 percent.
“One of the findings is that the core staples of maize meal, rice, flour, bread, potatoes, sugar and oil are becoming more expensive and increasingly unaffordable.”
The core staples formed the diets of the working class and poor households which had to spend more money on starches, leaving less money to buy meat and other nutritional foodstuff.
“This has a significant impact on dietary diversity and has serious implications for people’s health.”
Smith said the women interviewed were concerned that cheap food was making them sick.
The inflation on the food basket, 8.7 percent, was higher than the Consumer Price Index of 6.4 percent and the Consumer Price Index-Food of 7.1 percent. This indicated that poorer households carried a greater inflation burden.
She said that while food availability across the country was not generally a problem, access was a problem because of affordability.
In Pietermaritzburg, 60 percent of households earned less than R3 200 a month and spent most of their income – about 47 percent – on food.
Smith said the report showed that food prices went up the most over the Christmas period, which was concerning because it could be driving higher levels of food price inflation throughout the year.
She said that when prices came down after a spike (Christmas), they stabilised at a higher base.
The report recommended that the national government focus on ensuring that staple foods were affordable, overcoming income poverty through greater employment and linking salary and social grant increases to the consumer price index for food.
Pietermaritzburg resident Ronald Mnikathi, of Sinathing, was one of the people who had to cut back this year on how much food he bought for his family of five.
He said he no longer bought meat. However, on “rare” occasions he bought cheaper chicken cuts such as the necks and feet.
He added that his family ate a lot of vegetables and starch products. Mnikathi said he usually spent R900 a month on food. - The Mercury