Maverick Citizen

Food Justice


Activists call for waiver on markups of 10 nutritious items after rice, flour and sugar prices spike

Activists call for waiver on markups of 10 nutritious items after rice, flour and sugar prices spike
A customer at the fresh produce aisle inside a Spar Group supermarket in the Die Wilgers suburb of Pretoria, South Africa, on 14 July 2022. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

At over R400, this month’s food basket remains unaffordable for beneficiaries of the R350 Social Relief of Distress grant.

One in five South African households does not have enough food on the table and times are getting tougher for poorer families.  

Since April 2022, Daily Maverick has been buying 14 essential food items every month at a Shoprite supermarket in central Johannesburg. The prices of the basket fluctuate, but it has never been affordable for a beneficiary of the Social Relief of Distress R350 grant. This month, there was a sharp rise in rice, flour and sugar prices.

The DG Murray Trust (DGMT) and Grow Great civil organisations are advocating to make 10 nutritious foods cheaper for poorer families. These items are eggs, dried beans and lentils, tinned fish, fortified maize meal, peanut butter, rice, amasi, soya mince, 4-in-1 soup mix and powdered full cream milk.

Listen on Daily Maverick: What’s Eating Us Podcast Episode 7 – Poor people are bearing the brunt of unhealthy food 

“The consequence [of insufficient food] is a generation of children unable to reach their full potential, because if they don’t grow well, they can’t learn well,” reads a brief from DGMT and Grow Great.

“We want food manufacturers and retailers to waive the mark-ups of at least one product label of each of the 10 best buys. And, we want the government to support this by agreeing to provide a rebate to retailers and manufacturers, matching the value of their discount on the 10 best buys. If this proposal is accepted and implemented, these foods will be at least 30% cheaper.”

The commercial model is failing us

Matthew Purkis, chairman of the Participatory Guarantee Systems South Africa (PGSSA), who is also an ecological designer and organic food systems advocate, says South Africa’s food system is too commercialised, resulting in a long food chain that leaves the burden of cost on the consumer. 

“The rising cost of food is a calamity from a series of unfortunate systemic events, from load shedding right down to farmers having to use diesel to pump water because they don’t have electricity. All these hidden costs in the process get back to the consumer. From the retail perspective, the consumer clout is shrinking and products have to be costed higher to cover overheads,” Purkis said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: A ‘just transition’ cannot happen without making food production and consumption more accessible and affordable

The PGSSA helps smallholder farmer groups to harness the economic, environmental and social potential of organic farming to develop local food systems that are climate-resilient and keep soils and people healthy.

This transparent, producer-focused system assures consumers of the integrity of organic products and links producers into a community of practice through knowledge exchanges, while developing consumer awareness around ethical choices that support local economic development.

“Consider we used to have 28,000 commercial producers who were producing 80% of the food; [it’s now] down to 17,000 producing 70% of the food — and the main contributing factor to that is we are heavily entrenched in conventional agriculture in South Africa; we don’t have a large, well-connected smallholder farming network,” Purkis said.

“Most other African countries thrive off the smallholder farmer network, whereas we have been pushed into this commercial model and it’s failing the people, it’s failing the food system, the environment, so we are in a rapid decline here.”  

Purkis said there is a policy block in South Africa for smallholder farmers, pointing out that some policies, such as the Fertilisers, Farm Feeds, Seeds and Remedies Act of 1947, are from apartheid times. 

The act only works in favour of commercial farmers and Purkis said a policy that supports smaller players can open up the industry and lessen the burden on consumers because there’s a shorter line from the farm to the family table. 

In a country with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, where millions of people subsist on government grants, it is unfortunate that creating an environment that enables more equitable access to food through policy is not top of the agenda for those in power. DM


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