Drought hits food prices

2016-10-14 10:11
Pacsa’s Mervyn Abrahams and Julie Smith yesterday presented the results of their annual Food Price Barometer.

Pacsa’s Mervyn Abrahams and Julie Smith yesterday presented the results of their annual Food Price Barometer. (Amil Umraw)

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The drought and high temperatures have significantly affected food prices, with food inflation doubling within a year.

Low-income households are therefore struggling to put food on the table.

This is according to the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa), which released its Food Price Barometer for 2016 on Thursday.

The report, which was compiled by interviewing 51 women from six different areas in the city in various focus groups, found residents struggled to secure the goods and services needed for them to live at a “level of basic dignity”.

Pacsa’s findings revealed prices of foods purchased in low-income households increased sharply from November 2015 when the effects of the drought started to impact supermarket shelves.

The overall food price inflation on Pacsa’s Food Basket — which comprised 36 essential food staples –— was calculated at 15,1%.

In rand value this equates to a R243,63 difference, from R1 616,97 in September last year to R1 860,60 this year.

In a household were the breadwinner earns a minimum wage of R1 800, and on average supports five family members, maintaining basic nutrition is near impossible.

Pacsa’s findings reveal that the prices of 25 of the 36 foods in their basket have increased by more than 22% within a year.

For example, the price of a 10 kg pocket of onions increased by 75% and a pocket of potatoes by 68%.

Maize meal, which is an essential food product in low-income households, increased by 32% from R170,80 to R225,82.

In determining the impact of inflation on low-income households and their ability to secure a diverse nutritional standard, Pacsa says the most important food types are what their focus group calls “the big foods”.

This includes maize meal, rice, cake flour, white sugar and cooking oil.

“These are the foods which households have to have regardless of price because they provide the basis for all meals. They are prioritised first,” the report said.

The total cost of these foods increased by 25% and cost R120,54 more than they did last year. “It means that more money in the household food budget has to be spent to secure these foods.

“This trend will therefore suggest deterioration in nutrition levels in our populace”.

Speaking about their findings, Pacsa’s Mervyn Abrahams and Julie Smith both agreed that food prices in 2017 will depend on whether farmers have been able to plant and harvest enough crops as the drought continues.

“The South African agricultural system is far too vulnerable to drought,” Smith said.

Looking ahead to the festive season, Smith said this is a period of high increases, not because of inflation or drought, but because of retailers cashing in on celebrations.

“Food prices will always fluctuate but the ability of a household to source that food remains the same. The budget for food decreases and we are very concerned about what the picture would look like next year,” Smith said.

Speaking to The Witness on Thursday, Mama Ntombi’s Community Project co-ordinator Sandra Pillay said they provide food to and conduct awareness projects among residents in Ezinkethini, where most of the population is unemployed.

Pillay said the food price increases are evident.

“We can see the residents are struggling more than usual and we are encouraging them to start food gardens but water in the area is also scarce. It was a real struggle last year and it will be worse next year,” Pillay said.

“Their diet is not conducive to healthy living, but what choice to they have?”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  drought

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