Chicken off the table for poor South Africans after prices go up

Chicken, South Africa’s most popular meat, is becoming too expensive for the country’s low-income earners, leaving them dangerously few options for protein sources.

Bloomberg’s Shisa Nyama Index shows that 10kg portions of frozen chicken – enough to feed an average low-income family of seven for a month – is the most expensive item on their shopping list.

READ | The new Shisa Nyama Index shows how South Africa’s poor suffer when prices rise faster than inflation

A bag of chicken worth R378.90 in November is a fifth of the food expenses of someone dependent on South Africa’s monthly retirement grant. The price is up 9% year over year.

Based on data from the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, the index tracks the prices of some key ingredients at a traditional barbecue in South Africa’s townships – known as Shisa Nyama. Cornmeal, onions, carrots, tomatoes, curry powder, salt, beef, and sausage β€” a type of sausage made from various leftover ground meats β€” are among the items that make up the Index.

To create their survey, PMBEJD data collectors tracked food prices on the shelves of 44 supermarkets and 30 butcher shops targeting the low-income market in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and the northwestern city of Springbok.

The index shows the impact of inflation on South Africa’s most vulnerable consumers. In November, the Shisa Nyama Index showed prices up 18% year-on-year. That beat the 7.4% rise in total consumer prices measured by South Africa’s state statistics agency, and was faster than the 10.1% measured for the bottom income decile, which earns up to R20,140 a month.

Officially, food prices rose 12.8% year-on-year due to higher costs for bread, cereals, milk, eggs, cheese and meat, according to local lender Nedbank Group Ltd.

South Africa’s central bank last month revised its forecast for food price inflation in 2022 to 8.8% from 8.1%, partly due to a weaker exchange rate. The rand has depreciated 7.7% against the dollar since January, making it one of the world’s top 10 worst-performing currencies this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In addition to the effects of the weakening rand, poultry prices have risen as a result of global supply constraints. According to the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy, these are due to high feed costs, the ongoing war in Ukraine and the spread of bird flu in the northern hemisphere.

“Meat is considered a luxury product in the consumption basket of most South African consumers,” the office said in its 2022 baseline report. “Per capita consumption growth has slowed sharply, reflecting the impact of weak economic growth and reduced purchasing power.”

South Africa’s low earners have to worry about the cheapest source of protein and even then, at R140.40 for 2 kilograms it would be prohibitive for a family trying to make ends meet on a single child benefit paying out R480 a month. That money would have to be used for staples like cornmeal, with 30 kilograms costing almost R300, according to PMBEJD.

The South African government has a National Food and Nutrition Security Plan with a number of targets and deadlines for the next year. Since the plan’s inception in 2018, the country has been suffering from an economic decline, rising unemployment and costs related to the coronavirus pandemic and state institution bailouts.

“Poor South Africans need an affordable source of protein” to avoid having to rely on a less nutritious, high-carbohydrate diet, opposition Democratic Alliance shadow finance minister Dion George said in October. β€œAt least 27% of South African children under the age of five are underdeveloped due to malnutrition. Millions of school children cannot concentrate and learn. Labor productivity is hampered and our society is becoming increasingly unstable.”

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