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Pretoria - Rising food prices have left consumers with nowhere to hide as families struggle to stretch their salaries to meet their daily needs.
Many stakeholders and consumer experts have expressed concern about food security, which they say is directly affected by the fact that food accounts for a major part of households’ expenditure.
The Food Bank of SA recently said more than 20 percent of the population was food insecure.
This translated to about 14 million people not knowing where their next meal would come from. The hardest hit of these hungry people were women and children, who were most affected by the poverty trap in rural communities, the study found.
With the rising cost of food and other necessities, coupled with unemployment, families in urban areas have also been hit by the crises – the rise in the costs of fuel, electricity and water.
One consumer expert said: “These factors turn a problem elsewhere into a crisis in South Africa.”
The August Food Price Monitor showed food and non-alcoholic beverage inflation rose by 6.4 percent in May, and by 6.8 percent in June. It increased by 6.8 percent in July, said debt management company Debt Busters. The sharp and constant increases had drastically affected consumers’ spending patterns.
Spending on essential needs like food, petrol and travel have been greatly affected over the past few years. Food prices are estimated to have increased by 49 percent in the past five years.
“I decided to move to Joburg after commuting to work from Pretoria for five years, because the cost of travelling took a chunk out of my income,” said Sally Nkhosi.
Mamelodi mother of three, Thembi Skhosana, said her monthly food costs rose from R2 500 a month to R3 200. “That covered everything, from food to cleaning products, to laundry soap and meat, and then one day I realised that I either cut out some stuff or increase the money I spend.”
The mother said she moved to house brands for some items, and then cut out some of the “wants”. She cut out fresh juice and bought concentrates, less meat and more canned food.
Vegetables were also scaled down; fruit became more of a treat.
“I also cut down on the number of days I give my teens money for tuck shop, and I totally stopped buying myself snacks or lunch, I bring lunch from home now,” she said.
According to the Statistics South Africa consumer price index released in July, the food and non-alcoholic beverages index increased by 0.1 percent between May and June. The annual rate increased to 6.8 percent in June from 6.4 percent in May.
Consumer adviser Darel Ntombini said consumers would not have relief from costs and increases for some time. With the international price of wheat increasing by 9.66 percent and domestic wheat prices increasing by 18.27 percent between July last year and July this year, they would be facing more increases across the board.
The normal pattern of indulging over the Christmas season would make it worse, he said.
“Consumers spend heavily over the festive season, sparing no cost to make it merry, but they should be warned that they will pay heavily in January,” he said.
Ntombini said the country was heading for a consumer debt crisis, in which consumers – from low income citizens to middle class and above – would go into crisis mode.
Phuti Matuwane of Saulsville said the increases in food prices weighed heavily on her and her family, and that the grant money they received for support did not go far. They had come from a point where they ate bread whenever they wanted to, had meat at least five times a week and enjoyed the occasional night out whenever they could, a year or so ago, to eating bread only once a day.
“We cook pap and make gravy mid-morning every day, and anyone who is hungry eats that through the day.” she added.
“The portions of meat have become very small to make them stretch over all three days.”
Matuwane lives with two of her own children, her sister and her three children, and the family receives a total of R2 200 in grant money each month.
“Half of it goes into food, the kids need this and that for school, and very soon it’s all gone,” said Matuwane.
Research has shown that the country’s consumers, especially the poorer households who are hardest hit, have shifted from buying healthily to buying cheaply.
Government household surveys have picked up a trend, where shoppers steer clear of healthy choices while doing their groceries, preferring to buy cheaper versions of what they require.
In a study this year, the Human Sciences Research Council said that people looked at the prices: “Those that buy for nutritious content were in the minority,” read an excerpt from the council’s health and nutritional survey.
The survey found that about one in seven women considered health aspects when shopping.
“Unfortunately, the failure to eat right will turn us into an unhealthy nation,” said Ntombini. Good advice and sensible living was the only way to go from here, he said.