Food prices hurt nutrition

2014-10-16 00:00

“REALLY we are like pigs now! Whatever is available, we eat.”

This is one of the horror stories Pietermaritzburg residents told of being forced to survive on starches as escalating food prices push nutritious food out of their reach and even cheap foods become unaffordable.

These stories are revealed in the Food Price Barometer report compiled by the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa) and released yesterday.

It found that many forego dairy products and red meat because they have become unaffordable.

Starches like maize meal, rice, flour, bread and potatoes are the first on their grocery lists, together with sugar, oil and salt. These foods form the staple diet for many.

Pacsa has been tracking the prices of a basket of 32 basic foods from four retailers serving the lower-income market. It releases its findings annually.

But it’s not only the poor who are affected, according to Save Hyper manager Rashaad Solomon. The middle class is also feeling the pinch with many opting for substitutes or cheaper products, he said.

Mervyn Abrahams of Pacsa said many were facing hunger.

“The … Barometer has shown that as economic pressures increase on households and certain foods became unaffordable, households substitute those foods for cheaper products.

“These cheaper products have now also become unaffordable, leaving households with no further choice but hunger,” he said.

Brown bread alone, it found, had increased by 76 cents a loaf in one year to an average of R9,75.

Abraham said for a family of seven to eat nutritious food, they would need to budget close to R4 000 per month.

He warned that the increase in food prices would lead to unrest because people could simply not afford to feed their families.

The report also found that high food prices exacerbated cycles of hunger, poverty and low productivity in workplaces and at school.

“Our findings suggest that households are not eating enough food and the food which they are able to afford is extremely deficient of nutrients,” it said.

The high price of vegetables meant that households ate an extremely limited variety, with implications for fibre intake and micronutrients.

The report adds that children not given nutrients are disadvantaged from birth.

Northdale resident Vis Ramdave echoed Pacsa’s findings, saying he has seen his groceries costs swell by R2 000 to R3 000 per month over the years. “The prices of bread and milk are out of control, and those are the staple foods,” he said.

“We used to buy quite a bit of cheese, but now we are settling for things like jam. We used to buy mineral [water], but now we are just buying orange juice.”

Solomon said they had noticed changes in buying patterns, with people who used to buy mutton or beef now switching to chicken.

“People are looking for cheaper products; they buy the basic items. In some cases they try to stretch their budgets. If they usually bought a five-litre bottle of cooking oil, they will now buy two litres. And the number of items in baskets is getting smaller, with the same amount spent.”

What the government can do

The report made recommendations on what the government can do to fight hunger. It said the government must redistribute and finance activity on the land, and ensure that staple foods are affordable. It must regulate the food value chain and reduce unemployment. The government must increase grants to meet children’s needs. It must introduce a grant for pregnant women and halve the high electricity tariffs charged by Eskom.

Residents tell their stories

Residents interviewed by Pacsa told of their horror hunger stories.

• “We have changed our pots. We have switched from bigger pots to smaller pots; food in smaller pots looks more.”

• “If I have maize meal and salt in the house, then it is okay. Everything else is gone, but I must have maize meal.”

• “We don’t eat to be healthy; we eat so we are not hungry.”

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