The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (PACSA) recently released its yearly report, showing how food prices have increased over the past year, and how this has impacted South Africans over the same period - particularly low-income households.
The group’s data shows that in the course of the last three years the cost of the PACSA Food Basket increased by 23.3%. The high levels of inflation on food have been driven by a long period of drought and high temperatures which resulted in significant hikes on the foods on supermarket shelves over the past two years.
Retailers which target low-income households increased food prices on their shelves by 16.1% since November 2015. The prices of foods which people told PACSA they try and buy monthly went up by R264.88 during this period (from R1 648.10 in November 2015 to R1 912.98 in September 2017). These hikes have had drastic implications for families living on low incomes who are unable to absorb the price increases, according to the report.
PACSA said South Africa’s ‘drought narrative’ was questionable, in that during the period from November 2015 to mid-2017 the prices of all foods went up, which implies that supermarkets and commercial agricultural groups may have been taking advantage of the situation for financial gain.
“We found it strange as not all farms and not all farmers were equally affected by the drought and high temperatures. Soon after the drought emerged, the narrative became one of universal calamity when in reality the impact of droughts are far more complex and their effects on farms and farmers differ,” the group said.
It highlighted that the South African white maize commodity price per tonne was R4 243 a year ago, and today it is R1 795 per tonne. At the same time, the average price of a 2kg bag of maize meal is R225.82 this year in contrast to R191.15 a year ago.
“The commodity price per tonne of RSA White Maize has come down by 57.7%; the price of a 25kg bag of maize meal, the staple food for the majority of South African families, only came down by 15% year-on-year (and is still 5% higher than its pre-drought price of R181.81 in November 2015). Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation for this, but it is hard to know in the absence of transparency,” the group said.
The following two tables indicate how prices have changed, year-on-year, as monitored by PACSA.
According to the report, women said that although food prices have started coming down since July 2017, these decreases have not made much of a difference. PACSA says one of the reasons for this is because less income is coming into homes due to the deepening economic crisis - particularly affecting low-income households. More debt which can be in the form of a Personal Loan is being taken on to cover shortfalls in food, especially from households where income is low.