Food costs in SA: Cost of purchasing goods ‘up 30% during lockdown’

A research team have slammed the government for ‘ignoring’ the rising cost of our groceries, as food prices have increased significantly during lockdown.

The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD) has exposed a huge issue at the heart of our society. The KZN think-tank concluded a three-month research project on food prices and the cost of our grocery shopping during lockdown – they’ve found that South Africans are now paying ‘up to 30% more’.

Why our grocery shopping is costing us more

To be clear, this does not mean that food prices themselves have escalated by 30% – although they have crept up by a cumulative 7.8%. It means that unique factors caused by lockdown (such as people being forced to go to different stores, having to shop around for out-of-stock items, deciding to bulk-buy, and so on) are to blame for our grocery bills rising by almost one-third of their pre-coronavirus totals.

“Government’s decisions on responding to the pandemic via hard lockdown and the specific regulations related to these is impacting on expenditure patterns of households living on low incomes very significantly. Not only are households having to spend more on food, but they’re having to borrow money to buy this food.”

“This means that since March 2020 (pre-lockdown, R3 221,00) to May 2020, whilst food prices have increased by 7.8%, the additional spend on food and not being able to shop around for food, suggests that households may be spending 30% (R973,93) more on food.”

PMBEJD research

Food prices in South Africa during lockdown

Nonetheless, food prices have been increasing over the past three months. The research team found that 13 popular household items had become substantially more expensive since March 2020:

  • Rice: 26%
  • Cake flour: 3%
  • White sugar: 6%
  • Sugar beans: 18%
  • Cooking oil: 11%
  • White bread: 15%
  • Brown bread: 14%
  • Potatoes: 8%
  • Onions: 58%
  • Tomatoes: 12%
  • Carrots: 22%
  • Spinach: 13%
  • Cabbage: 22%
Food Prices Groceries
Source: PMBEDJ

Who’s to blame? Researchers blast government

The PMBEJD were scathing in their conclusions. The researches blamed the government for failing to prioritise “good food health” for citizens, and slammed those in power for “ignoring the South African experience”:

“In the face of Covid-19, it would have been far more effective and cheaper to resist illness through proper nutrition on our plates than by treatment in a hospital. For several years now, the 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, and a productive workforce. It is hard to argue that the state has not landed us in this predicament nor that it has governed well. The government has ignored the South African experience.”

PMBEJD research

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