Food prices are climbing again in South Africa – much sooner than anticipated

 ·27 Aug 2020

The price for a basket of select and staple food in South Africa has started trending upwards again, says the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group (PMBEJD) – something it did not anticipate happening so soon.

The cost of the PMBEJD Household Food Basket increased sharply between March and April and continued its upward trend, albeit 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,” the group said.

The highest food price spikes happened between March and April (5.8% or R187.08), April and May showed lower increases (1.8% or R62.84), May and June, saw a 0.4% or R15.31 increase, and June and July showed a decrease in prices of -2.1% (-R73.09).

Now, however between July and August, prices increased by 1.7% (R57.85).

“The upward trend in August suggests that 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 had caused food prices to spike from March are no longer at play and South African agricultural output is strong,” the group said.

More worrying is that the cost of core foods – those prioritised by households – are at the highest they have ever been, PMBEJD said. These foods can’t really be substituted, or be bought at lower quantities, as they make up the core nutritional requirements of a household.

“The picture coming out of the data is not good. The foods which have started spiking again, are the core staple foods in the household trolley. Price escalations on the core foods determine whether families are able to keep hunger at bay and enable meals to be cooked. The cost of the core foods is at the highest level we have ever seen,” the group said.

Between July 2020 and August 2020, the cost of these core foods increased by 2.3% (R31.75). Over the past five months of lockdown, the cost of these core foods increased by 8% (R106.06); and year-on-year the cost has increased by 15.6% (R193.84).

These figures are particularly harrowing considering that 56% of people in South Africa are living below the upper-bound poverty line of R1,268 per month – where the year-to-date increase in core foods take away almost 10% of that baseline.

Meanwhile, a quarter (25.2%) of South Africans are living below the food poverty line of R585 per month, where food price increases are devastating.

The PMBEJD’s household nutritional food basket for August is R3,470.99 – up 13.2% from August 2019.

While the PMBEJD said that Covid-19 relief funds have helped during the preceding months, it has become apparent that households simply haven’t been able to absorb the impact of the pandemic and nationwide lockdown – and the full impact is not even yet known.

“Most of us are not yet aware of the depth of the consequences, nor that even the extended period of consequences will be much longer then is currently supposed; nor of the magnitude of the changes and socio-economic and socio-political disruptions ahead of us. We are not just going to get out of Covid. This is real and we best wake up to where we are,” it said.

Read: Food prices in South Africa are down – here’s what you are paying less for

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