DIRE STRAITS

The price of bread – a sta­ple for mil­lions – is still ris­ing as prof­i­teer­ing con­tin­ues un­abated, writes Vish­was Sat­gar

CityPress - - Business -

The SA Food Sovereignty Cam­paign this week led a bread march against hunger through the streets of Jo­han­nes­burg. In a highly un­equal so­ci­ety, stud­ies on the sur­vival strate­gies of poor households re­veal how bread and a brew of sugar and wa­ter is what keeps many peo­ple alive. At the same time, bread is a big money-spin­ner for bread pro­duc­ers and re­tail­ers. Bread prof­i­teer­ing was rife in 2007 and 2010 among pro­duc­ers.

Premier Foods, Pi­o­neer Foods, Tiger Brands and Food­corp were found guilty of ma­nip­u­lat­ing wheat and maize milling op­er­a­tions by the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion, and were re­buked in the Con­sti­tu­tional Court for their ab­hor­rent con­duct.

This was also in the con­text of glob­alised food sys­tem price shocks from 2006 to 2008 and from 2010 to 2011, which made it a com­plex is­sue.

To­day, South Africa’s glob­alised food sys­tem is go­ing through its third price shock in less than a decade. All mea­sure­ments of food prices are show­ing a dra­matic in­crease in in­fla­tion, with year-on-year price in­creases of sta­ple foods. The in­crease for Jan­uary 2015 to Jan­uary this year was 14.6%.

The big­gest in­creases have been in mealie meal, samp, cook­ing oil and pota­toes, all of which are sta­ples for the poor­est peo­ple in the coun­try. How­ever, bread prices have also been in­creas­ing. A loaf of brown bread (700g) in­creased by 5.73% and a loaf of white in­creased by 5.34%.

The big food re­tail­ers are try­ing to make this price in­crease ac­cept­able by set­ting these prices be­low food in­fla­tion in­creases (food in­fla­tion for March was at 9.5%, higher than head­line in­fla­tion of 6.5%) and are hid­ing be­hind the weak ex­change rate for im­ported wheat to jus­tify bread price in­creases.

In this con­text, Grain SA has blown the whis­tle and is ar­gu­ing that im­ported wheat is cheaper and there­fore bread prices should ac­tu­ally be de­clin­ing.

To un­der­stand the ex­tent of the prof­i­teer­ing, more in­for­ma­tion is needed.

Peo­ple’s power through dis­ci­plined and non­vi­o­lent ac­tion is cru­cial to se­cure an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor and the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion of bread prof­i­teer­ing, which is deny­ing many cit­i­zens their right to food.

This in­ves­ti­ga­tion is one of the main de­mands of the bread march against hunger, along­side a call for bread prices and food prices – es­pe­cially sta­ple foods – to fall.

Such a de­mand is not un­rea­son­able, given the massive profit made by food re­tail­ers in South Africa.

Most show an­nual profit of more than R1 bil­lion. One owner – Christo Wiese of Sho­prite – is the third-wealth­i­est per­son in South Africa and is worth about R25 bil­lion. Wealth from food cor­po­ra­tions is in­creas­ingly con­cen­trated, while most work­ers in the food sys­tem are out­sourced and badly paid. The bread march against hunger will also call for an end to out­sourc­ing and for de­cent work for food in­dus­try work­ers. Food price in­creases can­not be un­cou­pled from the drought rav­aging South Africa. Within the first few months of this year, food in­fla­tion un­der­mined the ame­lio­ra­tive ef­fect of so­cial grants, and is not only mak­ing mal­nu­tri­tion a prob­lem (one in five chil­dren in the coun­try are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing mal­nu­tri­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Global Nu­tri­tion Re­port), but adding to learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties among chil­dren. More­over, drought is ex­pos­ing the deeper prob­lems of a cor­po­rate­con­trolled food sys­tem and a state that is in­ca­pable of re­spond­ing ad­e­quately. In South Africa, ac­cord­ing to govern­ment es­ti­mates, about 14.1 mil­lion peo­ple went to bed hun­gry be­fore the drought and about 46% of the pop­u­la­tion was food in­se­cure, re­veal­ing a ma­jor para­dox of our glob­alised food sys­tem. With food prices in­creas­ing and the state re­sponse com­ing up short, the num­ber of hun­gry peo­ple has cer­tainly in­creased. The state is not track­ing and mea­sur­ing this. Most po­lit­i­cal par­ties have not taken the drought se­ri­ously, ex­cept the DA, which wants a na­tional disas­ter de­clared, mainly to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of com­mer­cial farm­ers. The sever­ity of a drought largely de­pends on pre­pared­ness and the in­sti­tu­tional readi­ness of a so­ci­ety to re­spond. A drought be­comes a disas­ter be­cause of the ca­pa­bil­i­ties a so­ci­ety has to deal with it. South Africa’s re­sponse to the cli­mate cri­sis is be­ing tested in this drought. The drought, which is part of a me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal pat­tern that will cer­tainly re­cur, is re­veal­ing how the govern­ment is com­pletely un­pre­pared to use the Disas­ter Man­age­ment Act. In his state of the na­tion ad­dress this year, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma was silent on the global cli­mate cri­sis, and de­void of any se­ri­ous­ness about the drought and its ef­fects. In a coun­try in which most of our wa­ter re­sources are al­ready al­lo­cated, mainly to glob­alised farm­ing, and with in­creas­ing wa­ter pollution by min­ing cor­po­ra­tions, wa­ter man­age­ment should be a na­tional pri­or­ity, and the drought should be de­clared a na­tional cri­sis to en­sure we build greater re­silience and sus­tain­abil­ity. South Africa’s food sys­tem was fail­ing the coun­try be­fore the drought. As we en­ter a world of cli­mate cri­sis, the insanity of killing our­selves through us­ing fos­sil fu­els is even more ap­par­ent. Sat­gar is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Wits and a mem­ber of the Na­tional Co­or­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee of the SA Food Sovereignty Cam­paign

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