Brace for food price agony

Sta­ples are set to soar by dou­ble dig­its as drought takes its toll, hit­ting the poor­est of the poor hard­est

CityPress - - News - ZINHLE MAPUMULO zinhle.mapumulo@city­

Brace your­selves: if you thought food was ex­pen­sive al­ready, prices are ex­pected to hike by dou­ble-digit per­cent­ages within the next few months. The prices of ba­sic foods – such as maize meal and samp, veg­eta­bles, wheat, chicken and beef – are ex­pected to in­crease the most, says AgriSA se­nior econ­o­mist Thabi Nkosi.

The drought has af­fected over­all food pro­duc­tion in South Africa, but maize, veg­etable and meat pro­duc­tion have been the worst hit.

“White maize prices have al­ready in­creased by 150%,” says Nkosi.

“This has im­pacted neg­a­tively on the price of maize meal and samp, which are the sta­ple foods for most South Africans.

“The price of yel­low maize has also al­ready in­creased by 80% over the past year – and that has had an im­pact on the price of poul­try.”

Nkosi says a sim­i­lar trend is ex­pected in the meat in­dus­try, where beef and chicken prices will rise by dou­ble-digit per­cent­ages to­wards the middle of the year.

“Due to the drought that af­fected most parts of South Africa, farm­ers had to in­crease the num­ber of an­i­mals they slaugh­tered be­cause it was be­com­ing too ex­pen­sive to feed the cat­tle,” she says.

“A knock-on ef­fect of this was that the breed­ing stock was de­pleted, which means in­creased short­ages will fol­low in the next few months.

“Th­ese will push up prices, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for an or­di­nary South African to af­ford meat.”

While the full ef­fect of food price in­creases is ex­pected to be felt around June, monthly re­search con­ducted by the Pi­eter­mar­itzburg Agency for Com­mu­nity So­cial Ac­tion shows prices have been on the rise over the past three months, hit­ting an all-time high of 15% in bas­kets of ba­sic foods.

The agency tracks the prices of 36 ba­sic foods ev­ery month.

The lat­est barom­e­ter shows that a ba­sic food bas­ket in­creased by R149 since Novem­ber – driven by hikes in the prices of beef, veg­eta­bles, cake flour, cook­ing oil, sugar beans, samp, rice, maas and eggs ( see graphic).

The agency’s ad­vo­cacy and re­search of­fi­cer, Julie Smith, says the find­ings – which are based on the ba­sic food items found in the bas­ket of the av­er­age South African con­sumer – sug­gest food prices may still in­crease by more than 15% in 2016.

The sit­u­a­tion, she says, is not likely to get any bet­ter.

“We have seen the month-on-month in­crease in ba­sic food items, and what is clear is that it will get worse with time.

“Sadly, it is the poor­est of the poor who will be hard­est hit be­cause they will not be able to af­ford ba­sic foods,” she says.

Nkosi agrees, adding that poor house­holds are al­ready spend­ing at least 40% of their in­come on food.

“So if prices con­tinue to soar like this, it means or­di­nary peo­ple will not be able to meet other needs, as all their money will go to­wards food,” she points out.

“This re­al­ity sug­gests mas­sive ram­i­fi­ca­tions for health and well­be­ing, child de­vel­op­ment, pro­duc­tiv­ity, education, health and eco­nomic out­comes, fam­ily func­tion­ing and so­cial sol­i­dar­ity – and civil dis­con­tent and protest,” warns Nkosi.

“High food prices, to­gether with Eskom’s re­quest for a 16.6% in­crease in elec­tric­ity tar­iffs, the ex­po­nen­tial wa­ter-tar­iff in­crease, in­creased in­ter­est rates and ex­ces­sive lev­els of in­debt­ed­ness, may have dis­as­trous im­pli­ca­tions for South African so­ci­ety,” adds Nkosi.

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