Food price crisis looms

2012-10-17 00:00

RECORD food price hikes in KwaZulu-Natal are prompting fears of a consumer backlash similar to the 2007/08 crisis, when food riots broke out across the globe.

The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa) has warned that the number of labour strikes currently taking place in South Africa, including one that turned tragic at the Lonmin mine in Marikana, North West Province, could well be speaking to the issue of affordability.

The annual Food Price Barometer report by Pacsa found that fluctuating monthly food prices made it difficult for average families to budget and live within their means.

The agency said the price of certain foods would suddenly increase one month only to drop the next. Then either remained steady or experience another upward spike soon thereafter.

The report, released yesterday to coincide with the World Food Day, also found that while most poor people had for years not been able to afford meat, their cheap source of protein — beans — is also becoming unaffordable. The price of beans in the city has gone up by more than 142% in the past year.

Pacsa director Daniela Gennrich said they were still trying to understand the unusual monthly spikes in food prices, saying: “We don’t know the cause. All we do know is that it is making it difficult for the average family to budget.”

The report showed that an eight-kilogram bag of mixed chicken portions cost R139,86 in April this year.

The following month the price dropped by R6. It dropped by a further R8 in June, and then went up by R2 in July. Then in August it increased by R18.

Pacsa deputy director Mervyn Abrahams said the unpredictable nature of food price spikes had adversely effected households which could not adjust their budgets to take such increases into account.

“This impacts on poorer households disproportionately because these households have less resource such as savings to withstand such shocks.”

Commenting on bean prices that have tripled, Abrahams said his family relied on beans, an important source of protein.

“All people need strong bodies and minds to be able to earn an income, and without sufficient nutritious food they will continue to be trapped in poverty.”

The good news from the survey was that inflation on food prices was markedly lower than last year.

The increase was 5,34% compared to 10,6% last year.

The survey also found that petrol prices influenced the cost of the overall Pacsa food basket.

It showed that fluctuations in both the petrol and food basket followed a similar pattern.

Among the highest price increases recorded were cheese (45%), magarine (22%), maas (19%), samp (18%), maize meal (17%), rice (13%), brown sugar (10,4%), powdered milk (9,3%), eggs (8,7%) and fresh milk (7,5%).

Another significant finding is that once more a very basic food basket is unaffordable to the poor and is much more than an average pension. Abrahams said the impact is felt significantly more when taken together with high municipal utility costs. The food basket was for a family of seven — solely reliant on a pensioner earning R1 200.

The basic food items for that particular family cost R1 345,34.

“How is that family supposed to pay for their light and water accounts and still survive,” he asked.

He warned that the number of labour strikes could well be speaking to the issue of affordability and a review of an average worker’s wages and whether it was enough to buy food and at the same time afford to pay municipal utilities bills.

Abrahams said the call was not for cheap food but affordable food.

He said at the root of the matter was unemployment, poverty and low wages.

“Food affordability should be addressed as a policy priority.

“We need to urgently find mechanisms to make food affordable.”

He said some suggestions were to keep the prices of staple foods low and increasing the support for small scale farmers to increase agricultural production. More importantly job creation was key to solving this problem, he said.

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