There is not a lot that women can do in the face of rising prices on core staple foods. Price increases on core foods act to reduce the spend on dietary diversity essential for families to secure proper health.”

Already tight budgets are taking even more strain as the cost of essential groceries continues to rise.

Research by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD) shows that the cost of the average Household Food Basket has increased by R57,85 between July and August. This brings the total cost of an average basket to R3 470,99.

This is placing even more strain on household pockets, resulting in an increase in anxiety amongst South Africans, particularly women. According to a recent Ipsos poll, 40% of South African women say they are feeling anxious as a result of Covid-19 compared to 32% of men.

READ MORE: Grocery bills have skyrocketed – But we’re paying the price for buying cheaper too: here’s why

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Gender gap widening

The Covid-19 pandemic also widened the gender gap in South Africa according to a study by University of Witwatersrand Associate Professor Daniela Casale.

According to the survey, between February and April 2020, women accounted for two thirds (66%) of net job losses. “Women who could least afford it and were vulnerable, were the most affected,” Said Casale in a webinar where she presented her findings.

“Women were also affected more by having to care for children after schools had to close due to the spread of the virus, she added, saying women were more likely to be living with children than men the survey had found.”

Staples have skyrocketed

  • Maize meal has gone from R212,66 per 35kg in August last year to R263,86 in August this year (a 24% increase).
  • Rice has seen a massive 37% price increase to R111,59 per 10kg
  • Potatoes have seen the biggest increase year-on-year. Consumers are now paying R64.41 per 10kg (a 38% increase from last year’s R46,59)

“Price escalations on the core foods determine whether families are able to keep hunger at bay and enable meals to be cooked,” says Mervyn Abrahams, Programme Coordinator at PMBEJD.

“Price increases on core foods also act to reduce the spend on dietary diversity essential for families to secure proper health. There is not a lot that women can do in the face of rising prices on core staple foods.  It is not really possible to reduce the volumes, or substitute them with other foods, or drop them out of the trolley.”

As a woman in Gugulethu explained, “You can sit and stare at that 10kg flour on the shelf, you can leave it there and keep coming back to it three or four times whilst you round the supermarket with your trolley; you can even leave that shop and go to another one, and another one after that to see if you can’t find it at a cheaper price. You can carry on staring at the flour on the shelf in that next supermarket but you know you have to buy it. You stand there staring, knowing all the meals you can make with that flour, knowing how many people that flour will feed and for how long, knowing also that buying less will mean hungry children and buying a cheaper brand might not rise properly. You pick up that 10kg that you eventually choose and you weigh it in your hands. You weigh it in your heart. You hold it close to your chest. You end up buying it because you have children at home. You have to buy it.” (source: PMEJD August research report)

Find out which items are in the basket by downloading the latest report HERE.

Food prices have been increasing steadily since lockdown began in South Africa

“The cost of the PMBEJD Household Food Basket increased sharply between March and April and continued its upward trend, albeit at a slower rate until June,” says Abrahams.

“July saw a drop in the cost of the basket.  It appeared, on the trends in our data, that food prices were stabilising but August is again showing an increase.”

  • The highest food price spikes happened between March and April (5,8% or R187,08)
  • April and May showed lower increases (1,8% or R62,84),
  • May and June, saw a 0,4% or R15,31 increase,
  • June and July showed a decrease in prices of -2,1% (-R73,09)

Now, however between July and August, prices increased by 1,7% (R57,85).

“Very worrying trend”

“This is very worrying as increases are happening off a high base,” says Abrahams.

“We had not expected an upward movement so soon, nor had we expected the increase to be as sharp as it is.  We do not know why prices have increased in August: many of the disruptions that had caused food prices to spike from March are no longer at play and South African agricultural output is strong.”

Personal hygiene products have also increased in price

“Domestic and personal hygiene products are critical expenses for safe hygiene and overall health and well-being.  During the height of the pandemic, women were buying more green bar soap, bath soap and jik in order to protect their families,” says Abrahams.

Over the past five months, covering the period pre-lockdown (2 March) to 3 August 2020, the price of the Household Domestic & Personal Hygiene Basket increased by R31,04 (4,7%), taking the total cost of the basket in August 2020 to R691,13 (from R660,09 in March 2020).

Year-on-year basket costs have increased by R403,46!

Over the past five months of lockdown, the cost of the basket increased by 7,8% (R249,99); and year-on-year the cost has increased by 13,2% (R403,46).  The total cost of the basket in August is R3 470,99.

“The cost of the core foods is at the highest level we have ever seen,” says Abrahams.

“Government’s intervention to top-up the social grants was necessary.  The top-ups have helped, but they have not been enough.  The top-ups whilst absorbing some of the food price escalations have not been sufficient to protect families from the negative impact of the lockdown or Covid-19.”

“Most of us are not yet aware of the depth of the consequences (households are not absorbing the shock of Covid and the lockdown – Covid has broken people; it has broken things), nor that even the extended period of consequences will be much longer then is currently supposed; nor of the magnitude of the changes and socio-economic and socio-political disruptions ahead of us.  We are not just going to get out of Covid.  This is real and we best wake up to where we are.

How can government help?

“We would suggest that the top-ups be made permanent and increased to enable a more substantial framework of support to families. Other instruments also need to urgently come on stream: The Basic Income Grant should be rolled out to (1) enable unemployed workers a chance to create a livelihood and (2) a chance to feed their families. The National Minimum Wage level will also have to be revised upwards,” suggests Abrahams.