In a recent survey conducted by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, the Household Food Basket’s average cost experienced a slight dip, offering a temporary reprieve for consumers. However, this decrease does not necessarily translate to improved access to nutritious food for low-income households. The findings, gathered from 47 supermarkets and 32 butcheries across multiple cities, reveal a nuanced picture of the challenges faced by families striving to afford a balanced diet.

Price Fluctuations and Nutrient Disparities

The December average cost of the Household Food Basket stood at R5,238.20, marking a marginal reduction of R76.43 (-1.4%) from November. While various vegetables contributed to this decline, crucial protein sources essential for child development saw an increase in prices. The survey indicates a 7.9% rise compared to December the previous year, emphasizing the ongoing struggle faced by low-income consumers.

Key Price Movements

Several food items experienced noteworthy price shifts. Notably, soup and carrots surged by 6%, bananas by 7%, apples by 5%, and oranges by a significant 23%. On the positive side, the cost of certain vegetables dropped considerably, including potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and butternut. Maize meal prices decreased by R18.45 for a 30 kg bag, and cooking oil continued its downward trend, decreasing by 4% in December compared to November and by 13% compared to December 2022.

Challenges for Minimum Wage Earners

Despite the lower prices in December, workers earning the National Minimum Wage of R25.42 an hour face ongoing challenges. The maximum National Minimum Wage for a General Worker in December 2023 was R3,660.48, which, when supporting an average family of 3.9 people, falls below the upper-bound poverty line of R1,558 per person per month.

Impact on Core Foods and Family Health

The group emphasizes the significance of core foods in the Household Food Basket, constituting 53% of the total cost. High prices for these staples limit families’ ability to afford other nutritionally-rich foods crucial for health and well-being, such as meat, eggs, dairy, vegetables, and fruits. The consequences of these high costs extend to overall household health, well-being, and child development.

Budget Constraints After Essential Expenses

When factoring in electricity and transport costs, the group calculates that these essentials consume 64.1% of a worker’s wage, leaving only R1,313.56 for food and other expenses. Consequently, families underspent on food by a minimum of 64.4% in December 2023, further exacerbating the challenge of accessing nutritious food.

Child Support Grant Disparities

The average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet in December was R939.74, surpassing the Child Support Grant of R510 by 46%. This highlights the pressing need for interventions to ensure adequate nutrition for children in low-income families.

While the fluctuation in food prices provides a glimpse of hope, the persisting challenges faced by low-income families underscore the urgency for comprehensive measures to address the affordability and accessibility of nutritious food for all.