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Fri Jul 01 10:00:39 SAST 2016

The hunger games

Graeme Hosken | 02 February, 2016 00:05
The consumer price index, the official measure of inflation in South Africa, stands at 5.3%. File photo
Image by: ©Andrew Horwitz/shutterstock.com

Your basket of basic food is going to cost a lot more a lot sooner.

Already in the past three months the prices of basic food items have increased by 9% on average.

Some items like cooking oil, rice, samp, sugar beans, onions, cabbage, spinach and potatoes have sky-rocketed with percentage price increases hitting double digits.

A 10kg pocket of potatoes has risen by 120% from R33.30 in January last year to R73.32 this year, onions have gone up 30% from R34.87 to R45.33 over the same period, while two heads of cabbage rose by 59.1% from R17.95 to R28.55.

Four litres of cooking oil has risen by 38.8% year-on-year, from R62.80 to R87.14.

On average from January 2015 to January 2016, food has increased by nearly 15%.

The consumer price index, the official measure of inflation in South Africa, stands at 5.3%.

The food price monitoring organisation Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action, whose statistics are in line with StatsSA, warns the rise in food prices is expected to continue beyond current levels as the impact of the current drought will only be felt at the next harvesting season.

The agency's food basket is designed to track food price inflation of items in the shopping basket of the average consumer.

Margaret Dlamini of Alexandra in Johannesburg says she has no choice but to start a food garden.

"I used to buy veggies at the taxi rank, but can't afford to any more. My husband earns R6 000 a month. Our money does not go far enough.

"Electricity is expensive. We have reduced the amount we buy. Our children have to go to school, but we cannot pay their school fees. We cannot afford to have them take the taxi every day, so they have to walk."

Middle-income families are also feeling the pinch. Lauren de Villiers of Benoni and Leonard Smal of Centurion are being forced to make tough decisions.

"We can barely afford the basics. My husband and I received no salary increases, our bond's gone up, transport is expensive. We are using lift clubs to get our kids and ourselves to school and work," said De Villiers. Smal said he had no choice but to cut costs. "I have to pay my bond and school fees. My daughter requires chronic medication. Where do you find an extra R500 a month for food?"

Julie Smith, the agency's advocacy and research co-ordinator, said the food price increase implications would be severe on all households.

"Households no longer have the financial buffers they used to have to absorb these [rising food prices]. It's not just food increasing but everything else . electricity and household debt."

Food price increases, expected to rise beyond 15% this year, needed to be seen in the context of rising goods and services, including household debt, she said.

"Households are reaching a critical point where they're unable to absorb these increases. They are absorbing increases by cutting back on expenditure but soon there will be nothing left to cut back on without a detrimental effect."

Smith said: "Eskom is making a price hike bid, the budget speech is to be delivered soon, which will all have an impact, any grant increases won't keep up with increases in the costs of basic goods and services, which are beyond inflation.

"The majority of wages are so low increases are negligible. Electricity increased by 12.69%, well beyond inflation. Pensions went up by 4.4% and child-support grants by 3.1%."

Urgent government interventions are required in the short term otherwise people will go hungry, she said.

"The long-term effect is severe health implications, stunting in children and an increase in non-communicable diseases.

"Limited money for food means you buy cheaper and less nutritional foods."

Rob Small, of the Farm and Garden National Trust, said the drought and looming economic crunch meant there would be an increase in people growing their own food.

David North, Pick 'n Pay's group strategy executive head, said they were aware customers were worried about the prices of basic commodities increasing.

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