About the Price of Food

19 April 2016
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A recurring discussion on my social media lately is how ridiculously expensive avocados have become. Once a run of the mill lunchtime snack, the humble avocado has now been reclassified as a delicacy by my friends because no one can justify spending more than R40 for just one. Slowly, what was once considered a negligible amount to pay for your guacamole is now something that is becoming unaffordable. It’s not just the avos…


The future is bleak. Economists predict that food prices will soar by 30% in the next year, and they say what we’ve been experiencing up until now, is not even the beginning of the escalation. Now, if you bear in mind that lower income households already spend up to 60% -70% of their income on food alone, it makes you wonder how South Africans will afford to eat in the foreseeable future. What will happen when a trip to the grocery store becomes unaffordable?


The financial squeeze the middle class is experiencing is evident and valid, but take a moment to think about domestic workers who earn as little as R2000 per month, have several mouths to feed, and still need money for transport, electricity, clothing, school fees, etc. In my mind, they are the true miracle workers who manage to do it all with their meagre earnings by finding innovative ways to stretch their money. I met Doris, a domestic worker who earns R2000 per month, and gets a R320 child support grant for her two-year-old grandson. She said that to make ends meet, she decided to start selling sweets from a little stand every morning before making her way to her domestic job. Doris is out in the streets of Joburg every morning at 04h30, selling her wares, because without that supplementary income, her family will most certainly go hungry. When I asked her what she’ll do when food prices continue to rise, she said she’ll have to think of another plan. Doris was adamant that one cannot complain about the high prices of food if one has not made a concerted effort to change one’s lifestyle and explore all options.


[pullquote]South Africans are already feeling the pressure on their pockets[/pullquote]The people we spoke to said that they’ve had to make adjustments to their lifestyle to continue to afford their basic weekly shop. Some have resolved to eliminate luxuries completely, while others have decided that there is value in comparing store prices and hunting for bargains to continue to get what they want. But the lifestyle changes don’t just end there for some of us.  A budding vegetable garden revolution is slowly happening across the country. Many have started their own veggie patches to supplement what they get from their local greengrocers. It seems like South Africans are already feeling the pressure on their pockets, and are willing to make the necessary changes for their families.

I spoke to Sandra, an advocate and part-time real estate agent and mother to four boys. She’s the breadwinner of her family and has already made drastic changes to their lifestyle to accommodate and prepare for the rise in food prices. She has decided to let her housekeeper and gardener go, and even though that was a tough decision for her, she needed to be realistic about her expenses. Now her four boys share the household responsibilities, and she has used the saved money to put toward a food stokvel with women from her church. In addition, she has started quite a large vegetable garden and proudly declared to me that she hasn’t bought vegetables this year, because they have all come from her garden. I was suitably impressed.


Chatting to the economists, and to Doris and Sandra, made me realize that some have already started preparations for the inevitable. Others may not realize how bad it will get before it eventually gets better.


Personally, I make a trip to my supermarket once a week to top up my groceries. Since I live alone, shopping with a basket is always sufficient, but I’ve noticed that the cost at the till of my seemingly modest basket is shocking. I’m not ready to grow a garden as yet, but I’m willing to investigate the pot plants option. It is a fact that the future will be challenging financially for South Africans.

In the meantime, I’m looking for kind-hearted and generous friends with laden avocado trees in the greater Johannesburg area.