Cape Town - Consumers must brace themselves for food price increases far above the inflation rate because of the worsening drought in South Africa – the most severe drought experienced over the past two decades.
South Africa’s agricultural industry has been brought to its knees and people are battling to even get drinking water. Over the past week people across the country have sent water to areas most affected.
Experts warn that the poorest people will be hit the hardest, as they spend up to 40 percent of their income on food.
There will be a steep increase in the price of maize, wheat, poultry and red meat.
AgriSA’s senior economist, Thabi Nkosi, predicts that the price of food will increase by far more than 10 percent, double that of inflation, which is currently at 4.8 percent.
The price of yellow maize has already increased by 80 percent over the past year and that has had an impact on the price of poultry.
Nkosi said there were many cases of chickens dying from heat stress.
“The Free State and the North West are the provinces where 80 percent of grain is grown and these are two of the provinces hardest hit by the drought,” said Nkosi.
Nkosi said farmers in the Free State and North West had been culling their livestock since late last year.
She said while retailers might be able to absorb some of the increases, it would still be a tough year because of the steep increase in food prices hitting consumers.
The drought had also decimated sugar cane plantations, which meant an increase in the cost of sugar and products containing sugar.
“But it is not only commercial farmers affected by this drought,” Nkosi said.
“The government has spent a lot of money on start-up farmers in these areas.
“Due to this drought they have also lost their livestock and the investment made by government.
“This impacts employment opportunities and food security for these smaller farms,” Nkosi said.
Red Meat Producers’ Organisation chairperson Gerhard Schutte said this year consumers would have to accept that the price of meat would increase beyond the inflation rate because of a lack of supply.
A knock-on effect of culling livestock is that the breeding stock has been affected, which means increased shortages will follow.
The Department of Agriculture said with the current drought farmers were advised to continue to approach the season with extra caution.
“Dry-land farmers who are still planning to plant should wait for sufficient moisture before planting and still plant within the planting window,” the department said in a statement.
It advised irrigation farmers to reduce the planting area in line with the water restrictions in their areas.
The department also advised farmers to continue to reduce livestock to protect the limited grazing.