Carrot price surge drives up cost of chakalaka

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Chakalaka. Photo: Bashiera Parker
Chakalaka. Photo: Bashiera Parker
  • The cost of 5 kilograms of carrots jumped 23% month-on-month in March, suddenly making chakalaka a costly treat.
  • The carrot price increase adds to a 30% increase in the cost of the vegetable over the past year.
  • The cost of shisa nyama ingredients - maize meal, onions, carrots, curry powder, and meat has risen much faster than the headline inflation and general food inflation, disproportionately affecting South Africa's most vulnerable people.
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

No traditional barbecue in South Africa is complete without chakalaka, a spicy relish that includes carrots and complements the meat and starch in a so-called shisa nyama. The surging price of the root vegetable means consumers may have to pare back consumption of the condiment.

The cost of 5 kilograms of carrots jumped 23% month-on-month in March, the largest increase of any single ingredient in Bloomberg's Shisa Nyama Index. That adds to a 30% increase in the cost of the vegetable over the past year.

Crunching data from the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group, the index tracks the prices of some of the key ingredients in a traditional barbecue consumed in South Africa’s townships — known as a shisa nyama. Corn meal, onions, carrots, tomatoes, curry powder, salt, beef and wors — a type of sausage — are among the other items that make up the index.

SPECIAL PROJECT | The cost of living crisis – and the household heroes making it work

The gauge shows prices on average rose 23% in March from a year earlier. That surpassed the 7% year-on-year rise in the headline inflation rate in February and a 14% increase in food costs, official data from South Africa’s statistics agency shows.

There may be more pain in store for consumers: the central bank warned on Thursday that price-growth this year is likely to be faster than it previously expected — it expects food costs to increase almost 10% on average this year.

South Africa's most vulnerable people are disproportionately affected by high inflation as they spend a larger share of their income on food and fuel. The inflation rate for persons that fork out as much as R20 140 per year stood at 11% in February, compared with 6.4% for those that spend more than R312 247, Statistics South Africa data show.

Central bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago cited the impact of inflation on vulnerable, low-income earners as one justification for a bigger-than-expected rate increase on Thursday.

“Inflation is eating their income and if no one does anything about inflation eating their income, they are going to be in an even worse position,” he said. “Through deploying our policy tools, blunt as they might be, we hope that our actions will rein in inflation expectations and contain any further pressures in inflation.”

In addition to the central bank’s efforts to curb price growth, the Competition Commission announced this week that it’s investigating the prices of essential-food products, after consumers were subjected to “unjustified increases” over the past two years.

Carrots make up one of the 11 items the Competition Commission has chosen to investigate. 

“The commission has been conducting food price studies since 2020, and the findings depict alarming levels of price increases,” Commissioner Doris Tshepe said March 23. “In some instances, these price increases surpasses the annual inflation rate, which raises questions about the drivers of such increases. This has a disproportionate effect on the poor and low-income earners.”

To compile its household affordability survey, PMBEJD data collectors track food prices on the shelves of 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries that target the low-income market in and around Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and the northwestern town of Springbok.

Carrots, it turns out, are most expensive in Springbok, a town in an arid region about 500 kilometers (310 miles) north of Cape Town. At 59.96 rand for a bag of the orange vegetable, that’s 12.38 rand more costly than the next most expensive bunch, found in the commercial capital of Johannesburg.

Higher fuel prices, floods, a decrease in rail transport, a weakening rand and continuous rolling blackouts have affected the cost of farming, production and distribution in South Africa. 

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