National 16.1.2016 10:00 am

Food prices set to sky rocket

A maize plant is seen among other dried maize at a field in Hoopstad, a maize-producing district in the Free State province, South Africa, January 13, 2016. South Africa suffered its driest year on record in 2015, the national weather service said on Thursday, as a drought that has threatened the vital maize crop and hit economic growth showed no sign of abating. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

A maize plant is seen among other dried maize at a field in Hoopstad, a maize-producing district in the Free State province, South Africa, January 13, 2016. South Africa suffered its driest year on record in 2015, the national weather service said on Thursday, as a drought that has threatened the vital maize crop and hit economic growth showed no sign of abating. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Government fails to see national disaster looming, says Free State professor.

The severe drought situation facing South Africans, has already caused some food prices to sky rocket and experts warn that the situation will worsen in coming months.

Amid the struggling economy, this will leave a hole in the pockets of many citizens, but still government was not seeing this as a national disaster, Professor Johan Willemse, department head of Agricultural Economics at Free State University, said.

Yesterday Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister, Senzeni Zokwana, said the country was set to import between 5 and 6 million tonnes of maize, and this could increase the cost of the basic food basket by as much as 25 percent.

Willemse said if the Rand didn’t weaken by 40% in the last six months, South Africans would be okay.

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“The changing of Finance Minister (by President Jacob Zuma) also didn’t help the situation – it further pushed the Rand in that direction.”

He added with water shortages already affecting communities, regular households are also likely to see increases in the price of vegetables and other basic commodities.

“We are asking government to realise that this is a national disaster and to look at how we can assist the poor.”

Child malnutrition could also be as a result of drought, he said, adding that farmers may only just recover some time in 2017.

“Maize prices doubled in almost the last 9 months by 40 to 50 percent. If you look at rice and imported products, prices also increased because of the rand weakening.”

The price of bread increased by about two-thirds, due to wheat prices, said Willemse.

Cooking oil is 30% more expensive due to the drought effect on seeds.

“This year we will also see an inflation (in crops such as) potatoes and other vegetables.”

Consumers can expect a 15 to 20 percent rise in meat prices, he added.

“Live stock are being slaughtered because animals are not grazing.”

There is a secondary risk of not having sufficient harbours to handle imports, said Willemse.

However Zokwana assured there will be sufficient port capacity to handle mass imports.

Zimbabwe and some other surrounding countries were also “out of food”, said Willemse, adding that this may see a further influx of people to South Africa, further increasing demand.

“What this means is that there will be less money in your pocket. Lower income groups spend 40 to 50 percent on food – they won’t have money left for other necessities or will eat less and then malnutrition starts to happen.”

He advise the public to shop wisely and to “go back to the basics” in staying away from convenience products such as prepared vegetables

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