For all the latest news about the coronavirus, click here.

From increasing food prices, to restrictions on movement, women in South Africa could be forking out as much as 30% more on food for their households thanks to lockdown

This is revealed in the May 2020 Household Affordability Index, a report produced by Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity (PMBEJD).

According to the researchers, “The report is based on food price data in Pietermaritzburg (with comparisons between pre-lockdown March 2020 and May 2020) and conversations with women in queues and in supermarkets.”

However, it can reasonably be assumed that similar price increases have been implemented across the country, and women living on low incomes are facing similar roadblocks in sourcing affordable food and hygiene products for their families.

Food prices have increased in Pietermaritzburg:

Source: Household Affordability Index report by PMBEJD in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation Southern Africa


Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

Average household food baskets* have increased by R249,92

Over the past two months, covering the period pre-lockdown (2 March) to 4 May 2020, the price of the PMBEJD Household Food Basket increased by R249,92 (7,8%), taking the total cost of the basket in May 2020 to R3 470,92 (from R3 221 in March 2020).

The basket on 4 May is R3 470,92. This is more than the National Minimum Wage of a worker (R3 321,60) who still has a job.

This is particularly detrimental for low-income households who are turning to loan sharks, or spaza shop credit to try to absorb some of the shortfall in income. According to the researchers, loan sharks have exorbitant interest rates of up to 40%. The slight increase in social grants has not helped the low-income households cover the additional cost of food as many of them have had their wages cut, or they have not been able to work during the lockdown.

“Households are experiencing hunger and longer periods of nutritional deprivation,” according to the research.

More demand for food staples at home

With children at home, and many workers still unable to return to their jobs, or facing retrenchments, there are more mouths to feed at home. Where children may have received government-sponsored school lunches, they are now relying on food from home.

“Instead of lasting three weeks, women are telling us that food runs out in two weeks,” said the researchers. “Women are telling us that they have to spend more money to buy more core staple food.”

In Pietermaritzburg, women are typically buying more:

  • maize meal (buying the 25kg bag vs. 10kg)
  • rice (buying the 25kg bag vs. 10kg bag)
  • cooking oil (buying extra 5L)
  • flour (buying the 12,5kg bag vs. 10kg)
  • potatoes (buying an extra 10kg pocket)
  • cabbages (buying an extra 4 heads)

This comes to R509,17 in May 2020 (see Table 1 below).

Table 1: Changing household expenditure patterns and costs in May 2020

Source: Household Affordability Index report by PMBEJD in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation Southern Africa


Movement restrictions have forced women to change their shopping strategies

The report notes that restrictions on movement during lockdown have forced women (the primary purchasers of food) to change their buying strategies. Instead of searching for the best discounts and going to multiple stores, women are now only able to go to one or two stores. While they do try to identify the stores with the best prices, they are still forking out more for food than two months ago.

Costs could have actually gone up by as much as 30%

The PMBEJD Household Food Basket includes average prices over 5 supermarkets and 4 butcheries.

In May 2020, a basket cost R3 470,92.  However, with the additional food bought and the inability to seek out cheaper prices, a more realistic cost of the food baskets of households living on low incomes in May 2020, might be R4 194,93.

An increase in food prices, plus an increase in demand for food and the inability to shop around for specials suggests that households may actually be spending 30% (R973,93) more on food. See Table 2 below.

Table 2: The cost of changing household expenditure patterns and consumer behaviour on the Household Food Basket over the past two months

Source: Household Affordability Index report by PMBEJD in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation Southern Africa


We’re facing a crisis of hunger

“Easing the lockdown regulations specifically as applied to children being allowed to return to school and workers to work might ease some of the financial burden on households, but many of the consequences of the pandemic will continue,” say researchers.

“Covid-19 has exposed massive fissures now in almost every facet of our society and economy. For several years now, government has chosen not to prioritise the most important things which form the basis of society; good nutrition and good health. Food, like health, is the base on which all other important things get built. Things like quality education, a strong society, an anti-fragile economy, a productive workforce.”

We have to reimagine the future

“We cannot expect to have any sort of positive future if we do not first ensure that everybody is able to eat proper nutritious food and is able to build up and maintain good health,” concludes the report.

“We have to reimagine, and very quickly, how we can now construct a new type of economy that serves society, one which is able to support people to create their own livelihoods, and which is able to embrace and support the informal economy and shift the food system to put affordable, nutritious food on all of our plates.”

* The household food basket has been designed together with women living on low incomes in Pietermaritzburg. It includes the foods and the volumes of these foods which women living in a household with seven members (the average low-income household size in Pietermartizburg) tell us they typically try and secure each month. Food prices are sourced from supermarkets (5) and butcheries (4) that target the low-income market and which women identified as those they shop at. Food selection at the supermarket shelves mirrors how women themselves make decisions at the supermarket shelves and that the foods are chosen on relative affordability and reasonable quality. The date for data collection is between the 1st and 4th day of each month. There are 38 foods in the household food basket.

About the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group

The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group is a Civil Society initiative founded in July 2018. This initiative focuses on issues of economic justice, the low-wage regime and on the increasing household affordability and food price crisis, with its attendant nutritional deficiencies, health and developmental consequences, and the lack of imaginative policy and systemic responses to deal with this crisis.