Healthy food too expensive for most South Africans

06 September 2016 - 14:08 By Wendy Knowler

You may not have done the sums, but if you push a trolley around a supermarket regularly, you’ll know that the price of food has shot up alarmingly this year.

South Africa’s multi-discipline Bureau for Food & Agriculture Policy (BFAP) has done the sums, and they are horrifying because they lead to this conclusion: 40 to 60% of South Africans can’t afford to eat healthily.

Speaking at the World Nutrition congress at the University of the Western Cape last week, hosted by the Centre of Excellence in Food Security, BFAP consultant Hester Vermeulen said the severe drought, deteriorating exchange rate and other factors had led to a “massive spike” in food prices.

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Most affected were maize, fats and oils, and fruit and vegetables, she said, which posed a real threat to nutrition in South Africa.

In recent months the CPI food inflation rate was 12,3%, Vermeulen said, but the monthly cost of a nutritionally balanced “food basket” had shot up by a whopping 25%.

The BFAP has devised two such baskets - a “thrifty” one, and more expensive “diverse” basket, and monitors the cost of filling that basket each month for a family of four.

In April this year, they cost R3500 and R4600 respectively - R700 and R950 more than they did last April.

And that means that healthy meals are unaffordable to 40 to 60% of South Africans, Vermeulen said.

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And by next year, those baskets will be costing R3700 and R5000 a month.

“Shifts in the prices of staple foods such as maize could change consumers’ eating patterns and nutritional status,” Vermeulen said.

Maize and bread is fortified while rice is not, for example.

Affected consumers will be responding by eating less, cutting out food groups and surviving mainly on staple foods, or putting money previously spent on other things towards food, Vermeulen said.

BFAP’s August report lists the foods most eaten by the poorest 30% of South Africans - as reported by Stats SA in 2010/11. It includes beef sausage, polony, margarine, maas, milk, tea, coffee, tomatoes, cabbage, baked beans, eggs, creamers and fizzy drinks.

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Among the top 10 things South Africans Googled last week, along with “What happened to Charmaine in 7de Laan?”  was this: “How the SA govt is addressing the problem of poverty in nutrition”.

Google answers that with links to reports on school feeding schemes, social grants and the National Policy on Food and Nutrition Security for South Africa.

I daresay supermarket cashiers have a pretty good insight into how soaring food prices are affecting low income consumers.

* The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy was founded in 2004 to provide independent research-based policy and market analyses. It has offices at the University of Pretoria, the University of Stellenbosch, and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, comprising 42 public and private sector analysts and experts who pool their knowledge and research to inform decision-making within South Africa’s food and beverage sector.