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Food prices are climbing again in South Africa – here’s how much an average food basket costs

| Economic factors

Food prices are rising as South Africa approach the festive season, according to new data from the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PEJDG).

Its data over the past three months shows that the average cost of the Household Food Basket has increased by R161,89 or 4.2%,taking the total cost of the basket in November to R4,018.22.

The Household Food Basket tracks 44 basic foods which women living in low-income households tell us they try and buy each month.

Food prices are collected by women directly off the shelves of retailers which target the low-income market in Soweto and Alexandra, in Khayelitsha and Gugulethu, in KwaMashu and Umlazi, amongst others.

These increases in basic food prices in the trolleys of the majority of South Africans is alarming especially as the festive season approaches and with school re-opening dates having been pushed back to 27 January 2021. “January is a month which stretches out like a mirage,” PEJDG said.

“Our data at household level continues to paint a picture of escalating hunger, debt, unemployment, violence, poverty, and inequality. The plate is looking increasingly bad as pale starches displace all colour and protein. Health and well-being continue to deteriorate. Our health, education, economic and social outcomes continue to unravel.”

It further called on the government to switch its focus from creating jobs for a few to supporting livelihoods for the many. “Even if government were able to pull the rabbit out of the hat –the few thousand temporary jobs is not an appropriate response to the household affordability and economic crisis that more than 11.1 million South Africans face at household level.

“Supporting households to create their own work, even at the level of survivalist activities in the short-term, via direct income transfers is likely to create much more favourable outcomes for millions of South African households, whilst acting to kick-start higher growth and a transformed economy from the ground-up.”

Summary of key data

The main findings from the November 2020 Household Affordability Index, which now tracks food price data from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Springbok and Pietermaritzburg shows that:

  • Month-on-month(between October 2020 and November 2020), the average cost of the Household Food Basket increased by R101.50 (2.6%).
  • Over the past three months(between September 2020 and November), the average cost of the Household Food Basket increased by R161.89 (4.2%).
  • In November 2020, the cost of the Joburg Household Food Basket was R4,054.94.
  • The cost of the Durban Household Food Basket was R4,022.78.
  • The cost of the Cape Town Household Food Basket was R3,975.28.
  • The cost of the Springbok Household Food Basket was R4,425.03.

The main foods that are driving higher increases over the past three months continue to be the core foods which women buy first: maize meal (6%), rice (1%), cake flour (2%), white sugar (2%), sugar beans (23%), samp (6%), cooking oil (2%), potatoes (35%), white and brown bread (4% and 3%).

At an average cost of R2,167.41 in November 2020, these core foods are relatively very expensive in relation to the total money available in the household purse to buy food. These foods have increased by R70.89 (3.4%) over the past month; and R101.70 (4.9%)over the past three months.

“These foods must be bought regardless of price escalations. The high cost of core staple foods result in a lot of proper nutritious food being removed off the family plate with negative consequences for overall household health and well-being,” PEJDG said.

It pointed out that the National Minimum Wage for a general worker in November 2020 is R3,487.68. The average cost of the Household Food Basket of R4,018.22 is well beyond the affordability thresholds of families living on low incomes.

“Low-paid workers do not even earn enough to afford a basket of food for their families, this even before deducting transport fare to work and back and electricity, among a myriad of other critical expenses,” it said.

In November 2020, the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet cost R713.51, the PEJDG said. The Child Support Grant of R440 a month is 25% below the food poverty line of R585 per capita and a further 38% below the November cost of R713.51 to feed a child a basic nutritious diet.

Household Food Index: All areas, by foods prioritised & bought first


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