According to the latest Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PMBEJD) supermarket survey, food prices have increased during the Covid-19 lockdown Picture: Pexels
According to the latest Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PMBEJD) supermarket survey, food prices have increased during the Covid-19 lockdown Picture: Pexels

Survey shows Covid-19 hiked food prices - but things are stabilising

By Lyse Comins Time of article published Jul 7, 2020

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Durban - Food prices have continued to rise during the Covid-19 lockdown although they are now showing signs of stabilising.

This is according to the latest Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PMBEJD) supermarket survey.

Consumer groups say the price of food is not likely to remain stable following the latest fuel hikes which saw diesel and petrol prices increase by R1.73 and R1.72 respectively on July 1.

Rising transport costs and electricity price hikes will make it more difficult for low-income consumers to afford food as these expenses cut into budgets.

According to the PMBEJD survey, the price of a basic household food basket increased by 8.2% (R265) between March 2020 and June 2020, and now costs R3486. The year-on-year price of the basket increased by R420.94 (13.7%), from R3065.28 in June 2019 to R3486.23 in June 2020. The food basket includes basic foods sold in Pietermaritzburg supermarkets which women try to buy each month for a seven-member family.

“This is a lot of money. The substantial increases in food prices over the past three months have put enormous pressure on household affordability. The increase in the cost of the household food basket is a major concern, however, the imminent taxi fare hikes and annual electricity tariff increases now present a further threat to being able to put food on the table,” said PMBEJD researcher Julie Smith.

Food prices that spiked over the past three months included rice: 29%, cake flour: 7%, white sugar: 4%, cooking oil: 13%, white bread: 16%, brown bread: 14%, sugar beans: 18%, eggs: 6%, maas: 9%, pilchards: 3%, onions: 60%, cabbage: 20%, carrots: 34% and spinach: 25%.

“Not all goods and services compete equally in the household purse - expenses like transport and electricity are non-negotiable and must be set aside before any other expense is paid. Money for food arises only after these non-negotiable expenses have been paid. With no increase in income, the imminent taxi fare and electricity hikes in the face of the substantial spikes in the cost of the household food basket will act to deepen the crisis in homes.”

Smith said according to the organisation’s data, workers spent about 50.9% of the national minimum wage (NMW) on transport and electricity expenses. The NMW is R20.76 for general workers, R18.68 for farm and forestry workers and R15.57 for domestic workers.

“The money remaining (R1713) is not enough for families to secure proper nutritious food or to pay for other critical expenses. If the proposed taxi fare hikes of between R4 to R5 on local routes (nationally), and electricity tariffs of 6.9% (in Pietermaritzburg) are implemented, then workers will have to spend 62% of the wage just on transport and electricity. Even more food will have to be removed off the plate to pay for transport and electricity costs,” she said.

Smith said unless an urgent solution was found between the taxi industry and government, deeper levels of hunger, unemployment, poverty and social unrest could be expected.

“The principle should be that government and all other actors do not do anything to deepen the household affordability crisis,” she said.

SA National Consumer Union vice-chairperson, Clif Johnston, said the price of basic goods had increased but appeared to be stabilising.

“Our opinion is that the initial increases were as a result of consumers hoarding. Everybody cleared everything out of the shops, particularly things like flour and now flour prices are coming down. People on social media are also advertising their flour which they bought at inflated prices,” Johnston said,

“The consumers who have the means made it difficult for people who don’t have the means.

“The moment there is a trigger, prices become unstable and manufacturers increase production, and suddenly there is a glut so prices will probably settle down,” he said.

The Mercury

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