Potatoes now too expensive for many families
FOR many South African homes, potatoes form part of staple daily meals. But over the past few months, the prices have increased.
André Jooste, the chief executive for Potatoes SA (PSA), an industry association, said the prices had risen steeply since June.
“This is the time of the year when one of the bigger production regions, the Eastern Free State, finished the marketing of their crop, while the Limpopo production regions enter the market with their early crop,” said Jooste.
“Due to the cold winter this year, there were lower yields for the early crop in Limpopo and hence there were fewer potatoes. Some other regions that normally market potatoes during the mid-year also planted less potatoes, thus contributing to the lower volumes.”
Jooste said another factor that impacted the price was that, due to restrictive regulations associated with Covid-19, more potatoes were marketed around the fresh produce markets than usual.
“These regulations included restrictions on informal traders and the movement of people. The result was fewer volumes on the market that assisted in upwards pressure on prices on the market. This shows the important role of supply and demand in price formation.”
He said currently the price was about double what it was in June.
“A 10kg bag of potatoes doubled from the second week of June until the second week of October. However, as more potatoes reached the market during the third week of October, the prices started to decline. The average price of potatoes between the third week of June until the second week of October on all markets and for all classes was 46% higher than the same period in 2019.”
Jooste said South Africa produced fresh potatoes in 16 production regions.
“The bigger regions include the Eastern Free State, usually marketing the bulk of their crop from March to June, while the Western Free State market its crop from May until August. Limpopo markets the bulk of its crop from July to November. The other big region is the Sandveld, which markets potatoes all year round.”
Informal traders, business owners and consumers said they were now paying between 40% and 50% more for a pocket of potatoes.
Sagree Govender, an informal trader at the Bangladesh Market in Chatsworth, said she purchased less stock to prevent spoilage.
She sells vegetables, including potatoes, onions, chillies, tomatoes and carrots.
“While the prices of the other vegetables have not increased, there was this sudden increase in potatoes and we don’t know why. But we have no choice to buy it, even if we make a small profit. We have to provide potatoes for our customers.”
Govender said a 10kg pocket averaged between R30 and R40 a few months ago.
“We were able to sell it for around R50, or slightly over, and the customers were willing to pay the price. But now, we are buying the same 10kg pocket for R85 or R90 depending on the size of the potatoes. If we are lucky, we make a R5 or R10 profit, but the customers are struggling to pay the price.”
She said she sold the potatoes by the kilogram.
“It’s to make it easier for the customers so that they can still buy it. We sell a kilogram for about R20, but for some customers, it is still too much. We also try not to buy too many pockets as we only trade for two days and don’t want to keep the stock. Sometimes, we even sell the potatoes at cost price.”
Morgan Chetty, an informal trader at the Verulam Daily Market, has been selling potatoes and onions for more than 30 years.
“For the two or three months I have been buying the 10kg pockets for R80 to R85 and selling them for R90. We are not making big profit, but we have our loyal customers who support us.”
He said it was concerning as he did not know when the prices would return to normal.
Shalan Harridaw, an informal trader in Merebank, said: “For the last three months, the prices started to increase, more so during Purattasi in September. The price of a 10kg pocket shot up to between R100 and R120. Customers are not willing to pay those prices and we cannot sit with the stock, so we work by the order until prices are more affordable.”
Saadiyah Hoosen, who runs a restaurant and takeaway, said she used a lot of potatoes every week.
“Depending on the class and size, I am paying about R40 to R50 more for a 7kg pocket. It is ridiculous but we have no option as most meat and vegetarian dishes require potatoes.
“Customers ask for a potato in their food. How can we tell them that it is too expensive, we cannot buy it?
“Also, customers prefer fresh potato chips instead of the frozen-packet chips. But due to the increased price of potatoes, we had to increase our takeaway prices on curries and fresh chips by between R2 and R5.”
Shopper Sharon Reddy, 35, of Phoenix, said: “Last month, I spent R120 on a 10kg pocket. I usually pay R50 or R60. We use potatoes with most meals.”
Fellow shopper Marlini Naidoo, 40, of Isipingo, said: “I cannot afford to pay the price. There were times over the past few months when I did not use potatoes as I was not willing to pay so much.”