BERND FISCHER

Don’t get too comfortable if you have just adjusted your (already tight) budget to suit the high cost of living, as food prices are set to increase over the next few months. Due to the worst drought experienced by the United States in 50 years, up to 200 countries could be affected by the resulting food price increase – and this includes South Africa.

According to an article published last month on IOL.co.za, the US farming industry has made a total loss of approximately R147 billion. Given that the US is the biggest exporter of maize worldwide, many countries who rely on this supply will suffer greatly. The problem is aggravated by the fact that other countries, such as Russia, Brazil and India, have also been ravaged by poor weather conditions over the past few months. Consequently, wheat and soybean production has also been disrupted – both of which are a staple food for many nations.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has reported a global food price increase of 6% in July since the drought. With the Eurozone economic crisis still unresolved and skyrocketing unemployment rates worldwide, the food price increases come at a time when the global economy is heading downhill.

In South Africa, The Citizen reports that consumers can expect spiralling food prices. In the first seven months of this year, the maize price was already 44,4% higher compared to the first seven months of last year. This, along with a 16% rise in electricity costs and soaring petrol prices, is surely going to lead to a budget adjustment for some.

Dr Ferdi Meyer, head of the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy research at UP, warns that the price of bread could increase by 20% in the next 18 months. In fact, brown bread could see this price increase within a mere six months.

According to Business Day and the Mail & Guardian, other basic food and non-alcoholic beverages are also affected by the crisis. Professor Nick Vink, Chairperson of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Stellenbosch University, says that a maize shortage leads to an increase in meat costs, given that it is the feed grain for livestock and poultry.

Meat, as well as the fats-and-oils food group, has already shown a 14% increase compared to last year. Fruits and eggs have shown the least increase with prices for these food items going up by 4% and 2% respectively. In practical terms, the average urban consumer can expect to pay an extra R20 for every R100 spent on basic food.

Naturally, students are concerned as well. Annmari Coetzee, a second-year student studying psychology and education, says she believes the current global crisis will definitely affect students, especially those on a budget who try to make healthier food choices. “Trying to be healthy and selecting the correct food is getting tougher with the food price increase,” she says.

Students who believe they can escape the rise in food costs by purchasing unhealthy convenience foods should think again, since the surge of global food prices even goes so far as to affect meat bought by the McDonald’s Corporation and sweeteners used by The Coca-Cola Company.

FAO assistant representative Khanyisile Mabuza argues that attention should be given to the nutritional consequences of a food price hike, since many turn to food substitution as a means to cope. “In such cases, there is a tendency to substitute protein for sugar and sweets with negative impacts on health, which may cause different health issues such as obesity,” she says. Mabuza believes food and nutrition education is crucial in preventing additional social problems from worsening during the global food price increase.

It is evident that consumers worldwide will experience a rise in food costs. What remains unknown is how global nations will address this concern in order to prevent further damage.

Photo: Hendro van der Merwe

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