Grim picture of growing household hunger, poverty
Durban - The latest Household Affordability figures have painted a grim picture of South Africans struggling to afford basic foods amidst rising prices and inflation.
Consumers in low-income areas continue to be hard hit by the price of maize in particular despite bumper crops and good rains reported by the agricultural sector last year.
The latest Household Affordability Index shows the price of maize meal and other maize products continue to increase with basic and core food items such as sugar beans, rice, flour and bread seeing hikes between 31% and 68%.
Over the past five months, consumers have experienced an increase of R194.86 in the cost of their basic food basket.
Grain SA chief executive Jan de Villiers said while there was more than enough food in the country, the current high prices derived from the current international situation.
“Currently there is a huge demand for maize coming from China that is taking a substantial amount. And there was a drought in the Southern Hemisphere which resulted in a below average crop. We also have to take into consideration that the exchange rate worsened which pushed prices in South Africa so the prices are not just derived from local conditions but also from the international supply and demand context.”
The January 2021 House Affordability Index findings, which have just been released by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group that conducted the research, said the cost of a basic food basket in South Africa in January 2021 now stands at R4 051.20 which is way above the monthly minimum wage.
“The main foods driving higher increases in the Household Food Basket over the past five months continue to be the core foods which most South African households reasonably expect to have in their homes. These are required for all basic food preparation and are necessary so that families do not experience hunger: maize meal (15%), rice (3%), cake flour (3%), white sugar (5%), sugar beans (33%), samp (7%), cooking oil (4%), potatoes (4%), onions (2%), and white and brown bread (4% and 4%),” said Mervyn Abrahams.
Abrahams said the food prices from the research were tracked directly by women data collectors off the shelves of 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries that targeted the low-income market and which women identified as those they shop at in the areas where they live.
While Johannesburg continued to be the city with the most expensive food basket in the country, Durban has come in a close second with the price of chicken portions, potatoes and eggs reported as higher than in the other areas where data was collected.
“Wage increases do not take into account account the levels of food inflation hitting consumers hard. But at the same time we also need to be careful because if food prices get too low, that spells bad news for farm workers,” said Abrahams.
Consumer Specialist and Right Activists Ina Wilken said it was shocking that consumers were faced with “such tremendous increases” considering the situation the country was in.
“The increase in the cost of a basic food basket means consumers cannot afford to buy the most basic nutritious food anymore simply because they cannot afford it. This is a grave injustice. It shows that at basic household level, people simply do not have the money for food that needs to be bought regardless of escalations and high inflation. We are dealing with a pandemic ‒ people can’t go back to work, small businesses are closing and South Africans are dying of hunger because the cost of living is too high.”
Wilken said it was time for the government to act and urged it to “start looking at people at ground level, the people who voted you into power. They are in dire need of your help”.
Meanwhile, Black Sash national director Lynette Maart said the organisation has already, and has again, written to the government to intervene because all the interventions in place were insufficient.
“Our poverty line is set at R585 and we know that the minimum wage does not even cover the basic cost of a food basket. The basic child support grant and the Covid social relief grant also do not cover basic food costs, so consumers are faced with a big problem. This is further compounded by the fact that we do not even know when lockdown will end and how long these conditions will go on for. Communities are doing their best to share what they have with each other but the fact of the matter is that consumers are going to go hungry.”
The Competition Commission said it had noted complaints on rising food prices via social media but urged consumers to be vigilant and lay a complaint so that retailers can be investigated.
“We have noted similar complaints around the prices of garlic and ginger for instance which are in huge demand. We have picked up so far that some retailers have increased their margins which is not appropriate. So we are investigating and if they are found to be wrong, we will prosecute and fine them,” said the Commission's chief economist, James Hodge.