WHILE the drought has affected food prices drastically in the last year, the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa) stated, in its recent food price barometer, that food availability is not the issue, the problem is food price affordability. Low-income households cannot make it through the month on their income and find themselves having to take loans to buy food for their families. “Households with no savings to draw on cannot absorb shocks by spending more, they absorb it in their bodies by cutting down on expenditures and taking on debt to cover food and other expenditure shortfalls,” the report read. This contributes to the low level of the health of individuals, who cannot afford basic food in order to have a healthy meal. In turn, this leads to decreased well-being and productivity. Many South African households rely on the earning of one individual and this wage is coming under enormous pressure because of the rising cost of goods. According to Pacsa, food baskets, which contain only the most basic and necessary goods, have increased drastically since November 2015 when the effects of the drought started to kick in. “Low-income households are really struggling. It is becoming more difficult to put food on the table. The drought and high temperatures has had a significant impact on food prices,” read the report. This means that households have to either cut down on some of the staple foods or get into further debt to be able to afford the core staples, which include maize meal, rice, cake flour, white sugar and cooking oil. Further to this they compromise on the quality of other essential foods such as meat, vegetables and dairy products. In the period of review, September 2015 to September 2016, the Pacsa food basket has increased by R243,63 from R1 616,97 to R1 860,60. Core staple foods now cost just over R600 while nutrient rich foods like meat, eggs, fish, vegetables and dairy products, also went up. These are foods that people tend to compromise their spend on, which means they will compromise their nutritional diversity. In 2016 there have been major changes in the way that women structure their debt in order to survive through the month. “It is important to recognise that while women are managing their debt very well, it is their cleverness that is keeping their households afloat, but it is similarly important to note that the savings, which allow for these ingenious debt arrangements are coming not from a kitty of extra money, but from cutting back on basic expenditures required for health, well-being and dignity. It is their deprivation that allows for savings and consequently their ability to keep households functioning,” the report stated. Starchy foods – maize meal, rice, flour, white bread, brown bread, samp and pasta - increased by The foods driving inflation on the Pacsa Food Basket are the foods that women term ‘the big foods’ which are maize meal, rice, cake flour, white sugar and cooking oil. They are relatively price inelastic and must be purchased regardless of their cost. Together ‘the big foods’ increased by 25% (R120.54) year-on-year. They cost R602.45 in September (up from R481.91 a year ago). Miscellaneous – salt, yeast, beef stock, soup, curry powder, rooibos tea, coffee and cremora – increased by Out of ‘the big foods,’ maize meal, the most important food in the trollies of low-income households, was the biggest driver of inflation on the basket. A bag of 25kg maize meal increased by 32.2% or R55.02 year-onyear, taking the total cost to R225.82 in September (up from R170.80 a year ago).Vegetables – carrots, spinach, apples, cabbage, onions, tomatoes and potatoes – increased by Milk and maas increased by Meat, eggs and fish – eggs, canned fish, frozen chicken portions, chicken feet, chicken necks, beef and polony – increased byFat, oil increased by Sugar went up by Dry and canned beans increased by The cost of a basic, but minimum nutritional food basket for a household of seven (average size of urban low-income households in Pietermaritzburg), tracked through the Pacsa Minimum Nutritional Food Basket was R4 188.73 per month in September. Inflation on this basket was 14.9% year-on-year, meaning that it cost R544.64 more to feed a family of seven a basic, but nutritional diet than it did a year ago.