Ina Opperman
Business Journalist
6 minute read
2 Nov 2021
2:14 pm

Tough times are getting tougher, as food prices continue to skyrocket

Ina Opperman

Food prices are increasing, making it that much harder for poor and middle class people to feed a family properly.

Picture: iStock

Times are tough and will get tougher as food basket prices continue rising, with the price of the average household food basket increasing by R98.08 from September 2021 to October 2021 and a whopping R400.83 from October 2020 to October 2021.

The picture for poor people is grim. The updated Food Poverty Line is at R624 per person, but according to the calculations of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group, only R364.75 per person per month is available for each person in a household where one person works and earns the National Minimum Wage of R21.69 per hour or R3,643.92 per month.

Deduct R1,344 for transport and R731.50 for electricity and this workers family is only left with R1,568.42. If all this money ís used to buy food for a typical black family of 4.3 people and using a reductive calculation, each family member will have R364.75 for food for the entire month.

This figure is even lower than the group’s lowest calculation of how much it costs to provide a basic but nutritious diet for a child between three to nine years of R655.18 for October. Millions of workers in South Africa do not earn enough to feed their families. It is even further below the monthly cost to feed a small child. Imagine that.

ALSO READ: Food basket: September prices decreases, but still higher than 2020

October food basket prices

In October 2021, the average Household Food Basket costs R4,317.56. The group says the massive electricity tariff hike of ±14.59% in June and July 2021 resulted in price hikes of food. Another negative add-on is the fact that vegetable prices, specifically potatoes, butternut and tomatoes, are typically more expensive in October due to seasonal change.

There are also anomalies in food prices, such as a spike in maize meal prices in parts of Johannesburg and Cape Town while South Africa had a bumper maize crop this year), which in turn causes higher prices for milk, amasi, eggs, poultry, meat and bread prices in some areas.

The basket for Cape Town saw a surge in prices this month of R174.49 compared to September. Cape Town prices have tended to be moderate over the past year, but October saw a shift which brings the total cost of R4,280.67 more in line with prices in Johannesburg where the basket cost R4,305.69 and Durban where it cost R4,327.06.

ALSO READ: Government urged to intervene as massive food-price spikes hit the poor

Food basket prices to continue increasing

The group predicts that food prices will continue to rise into 2022, which will put severe pressure on households with a low income while jobs remain scarce. Monthly food expenses eat up a substantial portion of income, which will be made even worse by higher food prices, higher electricity prices and increase taxi fares.

When food gets too expensive for low-income families to afford, we remain in an emergency food crisis which is set to deepen.

“Our problem is not only that we are going hungry, but what is on our plate when there is food. The higher cost of foods has emptied out the trollies of any nutritional diversity,” the group says.

ALSO READ: Bad news for the poor, as household food basket survey shows another increase

‘Eat whatever you have’

The women from poor communities all over the country who do the price surveys says they eat whatever they have. They fill their plates with white starches, sugar, salt and oil but over time their children’s bellies cry out for good quality meat protein, sugar beans, dairy, eggs, calcium, vegetables, fruit, vitamins, minerals and fibre.

“We will pay a very high price for not making proper nutritious food for our children a key political priority,” the group says, predicting that:

  • Higher electricity tariffs, including sourcing back-up supplies amid loadshedding, load reduction and black outs, will increase the cost of production, transport and storage.
  • The new fuel price increases will run through the value chains, making agricultural production and transport more expensive.
  • The escalating crude oil price is predicted to continue its surge and will not only increase fuel prices, but increase the cost of inputs for agriculture, processing and packaging, as crude oil is a core component in fertilizers and pesticides, plastics and packaging. If the Rand weakens, these costs will increase further.

It also does not help that South Africa’s railway system is crumbling, putting more pressure on our roads. Civil unrest and disruptions of major highways and logistics in general needs attention.

ALSO READ: Poor people unable to afford nutritious food – survey

Household food basket prices

Other data from the October 2021 Household Affordability Index which tracks food price data from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries, in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and Springbok (in the Northern Cape), shows that:

  • The average cost of the Household Food Basket is R4,317.56
  • The average cost of the Household Food Basket increased by R98,08  from R4,219.48 in September to R4,317.5
  • The average cost of the Household Food Basket increased by R400.83 (10.2%), from R3,916.72 in October last year to R4,317.56 in October 2021.

Food prices that increased month-on-month are potatoes (up 41% or R34.07 to R116.92 for 10kg), butternut (up 56% or R46.86 to R131.24 for 10kg), tomatoes (up 27% or R21.84, with total cost of R103.81 for 6kg), maize meal (up 4% or R10.53, with total cost of R248.55 for 30kg), full-cream milk (up 4% or R3.24 to R81.01 for 6L), wors (up 4% or R4.45, with a total cost of R125.11 for 2kg), chicken livers (up 4% or R2.35, to R62.38 for 2kg and canned beans (up 4% or R2.38, with total cost of R69.50 for 6 x 410g cans.

More expensive food means that women spend most of their purse on the core food needed to keep hunger at bay and prepare meals. There has been a distinct drop in the diversity on the plate. Again, the survey showed that local street vendors help women to cope and can put some colour on the plate with tomatoes for example.

ALSO READ: South Africans now need R624 per month to stave off hunger

Difficult to afford nutritious food

However, it is becoming more difficult to get good quality affordable protein, such as chicken, beef, fish, eggs, milk and amasi. In addition, the price of 5kg sugar beans has increased by 36% or R44.69 over the past year, to a total cost of R169.62.

Due to this price hike, sugar beans, once a very affordable and still critical source of protein, is no longer a staple in the diets of most South Africans, causing a nutritional problem. Marginal increases of 2% were also recorded on sugar beans, stock cubes, soup, tea, amasi, bananas, apples, margarine and polony.