PMB folks in a pickle

2014-07-23 00:00

WORKING-CLASS households in Pietermaritzburg are struggling to keep bread on the table, with the prices of basic foods such as pap, chicken and brown bread up by about 20% in a year in June, well above official inflation rates.

This is according to a monthly food price barometer for lower income groups in the city that is compiled by the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa).

The figures are comparable with most other working-class communities in KwaZulu-Natal.

The increases have been noted nationally, and Reserve bank governor Gill Marcus named food price increases as one of the reasons why the interest rates were increased last week.

Pacsa’s food price index showed that its basket of foodstuffs increased by 10,95% to R1 639,42 in June this year compared with the same month a year ago.

This increase is already well above the annualised inflation rate of 6,1% for the period.

But within Pacsa’s food basket, the price of maize meal increased by 23,2% over the period, brown bread by 19,7% and frozen chicken pieces by 22,3%.

“Unless we bring food inflation down to affordable levels; working-class households will struggle to keep bread on the table and the proliferation of strikes will intensify,” Pacsa said in a statement.

Pacsa social advocacy and research co-ordinator Julie Smith said women she had interviewed for food price focus groups had said that they were not coping.

They said they were coping by eating more lower priced starch foods such as pap and bread, but other things such as food with protein and vitamins, such as meat and vegetables, were falling out of their trolleys due to higher prices.

“The implications for people and children in terms of their energy requirements and health are serious,” said Smith. “The spoons of uphuthu grow like a mountain next to everything else which shrinks away to almost nothing. We don’t eat to be healthy; we eat so we are not hungry — we just eat to get full,” was one of the comments from the focus groups.

Absa agriculture economist Ernst Javoski said in the short term food inflation was expected to decline towards December, barring a “blowing out of the rand to R11-R12, then we could see higher prices”.

This would not necessarily translate into lower prices at retail level, but there was capacity among the large retailers to lower prices of basic goods, said Javoski.

Over a longer period, predictions of dryer El Niño type weather was predicted, and this might lead to higher planted food prices towards March, April next year, said Javoski.

Smith said maize, soybeans and sunflower prices were expected to decline, but the weak exchange rate may continue to drive fuel prices higher, which in turn feeds into higher food prices.

In addition, municipal tariff increases came into affect in July, and increases in minibus tax fares were expected to put even more pressure on working class households, she said.

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