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Consumers face lean festive tables despite fuel price drop

Consumers will have a lean festive table despite the drop in the price of fuel as food prices continue to escalate at an unsustainable rate. The only way out is more credit, but buying food on credit is also not a good idea.

All grades of petrol will decrease by 65 cents tonight at midnight and will no doubt add a little festive cheer to the year-end holidays, when millions of South Africans will be enjoying their annual leave. Motorists will pay R22.79 per litre for 93 unleaded petrol, down from R23.44 in November and R23.25 for 95 unleaded, a drop from R23.90.

However, for most of the nation a lean festive season table awaits this year. With diesel prices coming down by R2.35 per litre, the question remains: will consumers see the effect on the grocery shelves? This seems reasonable, especially as the food price increases were attributed partially to the increases in diesel.

“Due to the relentless high cost of living, two-thirds of the nation now struggle to put enough food on the table to feed their families,” Neil Roets, CEO of Debt Rescue, says.

A lean festive table for consumers

While the reduced fuel price offers some relief, food prices continue to escalate at an unsustainable rate, as witnessed by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group in its month-on-month report about the average cost of the Household Food Basket, which increased by another R17.05 (0.3%), from R5 297.58 in October to R5 314.63 in November.

Prices increased by 5% or more in November for eggs (18%), chicken livers (5%), tomatoes (20%), apples (10%) and oranges (31%). The prices of nineteen food items, all staple foods that families cannot do without, increased by double digits this year, with nine showing increases of over 20%.

These are: potatoes (92%), eggs (68%), butternut (45%), oranges (36%), apples (28%), tomatoes (27%), rice (23%), chicken livers (23%) and bananas (20%). The price of potatoes almost doubled in a year and the price of eggs also increased dramatically. This is especially worrying, as eggs have traditionally been the most cost-effective source of carbohydrate and protein.

“It is understandable that the price of eggs has skyrocketed due to the repercussions of the avian flu pandemic, but the fact that authorities in the food industry have not done everything in their power to contain the price of items like potatoes, rice, tomatoes and bananas, is unacceptable,” Roets says.

According to the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP), South Africa experienced a 24% reduction in potato volumes due to the impact of load shedding on the ability to irrigate, which is why prices have shot up.

Poorest 60% of households devastated by food price increases

For the poorest 60% of South African households the annual increase in living cost that supersedes headline inflation is devastating, Roets says.

“With already half of their income earmarked for food, these households are exceptionally vulnerable to inflationary pressures. The reality is that food price inflation puts a nutritious diet out of reach for millions of South Africans.”

According to research commissioned by the Shoprite Group, released in October 2023, nearly half of South Africa’s population will be food insecure by 2025, with 48.96% of the population not having enough food to eat.

“Hunger and food poverty are the real threats to the nation as the year draws to a close,” says Roets.  “The warning signs were there throughout the year and we, along with other concerned industry leaders, have raised our voices time and again. Right now, around 55% of South Africans live under the upper-bound poverty line of R1 558 per month. How high does this figure need to go before serious action is taken?”

Roets says that, with the relentless increases in food prices, a growing number of people are resorting to credit facilities to meet their monthly grocery bill requirements.

“We foresee that this debt will increase over the holiday season as desperate South Africans try to bring some festive cheer to the table but digging themselves even deeper into debt.”

This article was first published here.