Poor households hit hard by a worrying rise in basic food prices

26 August 2020 - 11:44
By Suthentira Govender
A standard basket of food increased by R57.85 from July to August, taking the cost to a worrying  R3,470.
Image: Jackie Clausen A standard basket of food increased by R57.85 from July to August, taking the cost to a worrying R3,470.

The cost of the average household food basket in SA increased by nearly R60 in August.

This is according to the latest household food index report by the civil group Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity (PMBEJD).

The household food index surveys women from low-income households to provide a sense of what their food baskets cost. Though based in Pietermaritzburg, the household food index may provide a picture into food price inflation experienced by households living on low incomes across SA.

According to the report, between July and August food prices increased by R57.85, with the total cost of a food basket sitting at R3,470.

“The upward trend in August suggests prices are again on the rise. This is very worrying as increases are happening off a high base. We had not expected an upward movement so soon, nor had we expected the increase to be as sharp as it is.

“We do not know why prices have increased in August. Many of the disruptions that caused food prices to spike from March are no longer at play and SA agricultural output is strong,” said Mervyn Abrahams, the group's programme co-ordinator.

The cost of an average food basket increased sharply between March and April and continued its upward trend at a slower rate until June.

“July saw a drop in the cost of the basket. It appeared, on the trends in our data, that food prices were stabilising, but August is again showing an increase.

“Over the past five months of lockdown, the cost of the basket increased by 7.8% (R249.99), and year-on-year the cost has increased by 13,2% (R403.46)," said Abrahams.

Year-on-year, the price of the basket increased from R3,067.52 in August 2019 to R3,470.99 in August 2020.

“Government intervention to top-up social grants was necessary. The top-ups have helped, but they have not been enough. The top-ups, while absorbing some of the food price escalations, have not been sufficient to protect families from the negative effects of the lockdown or Covid-19.

“The situation would not have changed enough by October 2020 for the top-ups to be withdrawn.”

Abrahams warned that if the top-ups to grants are withdrawn too soon, “millions of households will be in a worse position than they were before Covid-19, and will be plunged into a depth of poverty this country has not yet seen”. 

“It will then become extremely difficult to support a recovery in the economy and society,” he said.