File picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)
File picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

Battle to feed families as food prices soar, consumption rises during lockdown

By Lyse Comins Time of article published May 27, 2020

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Durban – KwaZulu-Natal food prices continue to spiral during the lockdown, impacting the poor, who are turning to loan sharks to feed their hungry families, according to the latest food price survey released by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group yesterday.

The group’s co-ordinator, Mervyn Abrahams, said their latest Research Report and Household Affordability Index, for May, showed that prices of a basic food basket had spiked by 7.8% (R250) to R3 470.92 between March and May.

The year-on-year price of the basket increased by R419.80 (13.8%) from R3051.11 in May 2019 to R3470.92 in May 2020.

The report is based on food price data collected at stores in Pietermaritzburg, comparing pre-lockdown prices with recent prices, and including conversations with women buyers in stores. 

One of the key findings was that families living on low incomes may be spending 30% more on food than two months ago.

“While the price of foods in the supermarket trolleys of families living on low incomes continues to increase, with the Household Food Basket having increased by 7.8% (R250) between March this year and May, these increases pale into insignificance, because women are now having to buy more food,” Abrahams said.

“Lockdown restrictions have meant that with children and workers at home, food runs out quicker – after two weeks – and women can no longer shop around for the cheapest prices.

“Our research suggests that families living on low incomes may be spending 30% (R973.93) more on food this May than they did two months ago,” he said.

“Government’s decisions on responding to the pandemic with a hard lockdown, and the specific regulations related to it, are impacting on and changing expenditure patterns and consumer behaviours of households living on low incomes, very significantly.”

Abrahams said many workers’ wages had been suspended and the government’s social grant top-up was insufficient to assist families.

“Women with no savings buffers are having to take on higher levels of debt, primarily through loan sharks, at interest rates of 40% to absorb some part of the food shortfalls,” Abrahams said.

However, he said the shortfall was not fully absorbed, and households were experiencing hunger and longer periods of nutritional deprivation.   

“While our data is localised, it’s not unlikely that this picture is playing itself out in textured variations right across South Africa.

“Our findings point to the need for a massive restructuring of responses and raises very serious questions regarding the adequacy of government’s interventions to help South Africans during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of Gift of the Givers, said families had been devastated by a loss of income.

“The demand for food is like we have never seen in our 28-year history. It’s huge. We’re receiving a flood of requests.

“On the ground, it’s people saying: ‘If you can’t help me – please give to my 5-year-old son, my husband lost his job, my son has cancer, or all seven of us have lost our jobs’,” he said.

Sooliman said he had noticed the spike in food prices.

“I shop around a lot and food prices have escalated tremendously. They’re far higher than they were pre-lockdown.

“Everything I buy now costs more. People who are working and have money won’t even be able to buy the same amount of food,” Sooliman said.

Some of the items that have increased in price include:

Rice: 26%

Cake flour: 3%

White sugar: 6%

Sugar beans: 18%

Cooking oil: 11%

White bread: 15%

Brown bread: 14%

Potatoes: 8%

Onions: 58%

Tomatoes: 12%

Carrots: 22%

Spinach: 13%

Cabbage: 22%

The Mercury

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