The price of foods in the supermarket trollies of families living on low incomes increased 7.8 percent (R250) between March and May 2020., the two months of lockdown so far.
The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity (PMBEJD) Household Food Basket survey for May said that lockdown restrictions had meant that children and workers had remained at home, so food ran out quicker, and women could no longer shop around for the cheapest prices, so women had to buy more core staple foods.
“Our research suggests families living on low incomes might be spending 30 percent (R973.93) more on food in May 2020, than they did two months ago,” PMBEJD director Mervyn Abrahams said in a statement yesterday.
The economic effects of the lockdown in South Africa on poor income families has been recognised by the government, with for instance, President Cyril Ramaphosa saying on Freedom Day “that for millions… this has been a month of misery, of breadwinners not working, of families struggling to survive and of children going to bed and waking up hungry.”
On Friday, the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign and the Cooperative and Policy Alternative Center (COPAC) inaugurated the National Food Crisis Forum (NFCF), which has as its aim the building of a partnership with government – which is operating its own food relief programmes – and the Solidarity Fund to address the food crisis in the country.
“Whilst our data is localised (the data is gleaned from shops in Pietermaritzburg most frequented by lower income earners), it is not unlikely that this picture is playing itself out in textured variations across South Africa,” said Abrahams.
He said their research found women, with no savings buffers, were taking on higher debt to absorb some part of the food shortfalls.
“Our findings…raise very serious questions regarding the adequacy of government’s interventions to help South Africans during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly as financial shocks will continue even as the government moves to ease lockdown restrictions,” said Abrahams.
Over the period pre-lockdown (March 2) to May 4, the price of the PMBEJD Household Food Basket increased by R249.92 or 7.8 percent percent, taking the total cost to R3 470.92 in May. The year-on-year price increase was 13.8 percent.
Some staple food prices to have spiked over two months were rice (26 percent), cake flour (3 percent), white sugar (6 percent), sugar beans (18 percent), cooking oil (11 percent), white bread (15 percent), brown bread (14 percent), potatoes (8 percent), onions (58 percent), tomatoes (12 percent) spinach (13 percent) and cabbage (22 percent).
In Pietermaritzburg, women are typically buying more maize meal (the 25kg bag vs. 10kg), rice (the 25kg bag vs. 10kg bag), cooking oil (an extra 5L), flour (the 12,5kg bag vs. 10kg), potatoes (buying an extra 10kg) and cabbages (an extra 4 heads).
Social distancing in kombis and supermarkets had disrupted shopping procedures. Before Covid-19, women scouted around three to four supermarkets, and two to three butcheries to find the most affordable prices, including specials; and then bought the foods at the best prices.
Now, women were forced to shop in just one supermarket and one butchery.
In Pietermaritzburg, women typically drew on three main alternative money sources: omashonisa (loan sharks), spaza shop credit and cash loans, and stokvel savings and loans.