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Food security under threat

[Zimbabwe] In the absence of maize meal, Zimbabweans also eat rice , up for sale in a market in Mbare, Harare. [Date picture taken: 05/01/2006]
Une mauvaise nutrition fragilise les personnes vivant avec le VIH (IRIN)

South Africans' food security - particularly the urban and rural poor, is under threat as they grapple with the highest food inflation rate in five years, according to the government's advisory body on agricultural marketing.

From July 2007 to July 2008 the year-on-year increase in the Consumer Price Index for Food was 17.8 percent, the National Agricultural Marketing Council's quarterly food price monitor noted. "This is the highest rate of food inflation experienced in the country since January 2003."

South Africans earning less than US$300 a month spent more than 30 percent of their income on food and non-alcoholic beverages, according to another survey by Statistics South Africa. Even "small increases in food prices will have a profound impact on how such households maintain food security," said the council's monitor.

''The year-on-year increase in the Consumer Price Index for Food was 17.8 percent''

The cost of almost all essential food items - bread, meat and milk products - has shot up by more than six percent, the official target inflation rate set by the South African Reserve Bank. South Africa is also a net importer of wheat and sunflower oil, which has had a negative impact on the price of bread and cooking oil.

Although the price of maize-meal, the staple food, rose by less than the 6 percent inflation rate and has since begun to decline, the monitor found that rural residents paid at least $0.12 per item more for some essential food items.

The high prices have been attributed to global rises in the cost of food and fuel, a steep hike in electricity tariffs in South Africa, and high distribution costs. Prices have begun to show a downward trend as international commodity prices appear to have peaked during the last few months, the monitor noted, but are still too high.

A high unemployment rate has aggravated the problem. "The urban poor are among the worst affected as they do not have access to food, unlike the rural poor, who have access to land to grow food to support themselves and their families," said André Jooste, Senior Manager of the marketing council's Market and Economic Research Centre.

At least 38 percent of the country's population is jobless, in terms of a wider definition of unemployment that includes discouraged job seekers, according to the National Labour and Economic Development Institute, a local think-tank, and at least 12 million South Africans in a population of more than 47 million receive some form of social grant.

In response to the high food and fuel prices, the Minister of Social Development, Zola Skweyiya, recently increased the income threshold of people qualifying for social grants, which means just over another million people will also benefit.

"This is indeed a step in the right direction, especially in these hard times where the cost of living has increased as a result of high food and petrol (gasoline) prices," Skweyiya remarked while announcing the increase. "[The increase is] in line with inflation [which] had diminished the value of the grants, more especially in purchasing the basket of goods and services that is mostly consumed by the poor."

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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