Fears of global hunger

The news about world food availability and prices gets worse and worse. Fears are being raised about shortages and mass hunger, particularly in food importing countries.

The war in Ukraine is compounding factors that were already pushing up food inflation – the impacts of the coronavirus and climate change.

Now the UN Secretary General says global hunger levels are at a new high, and talks about “a crisis that could last for years”. The Economist has as its cover story “the coming food catastrophe” and one of South Africa’s top businessmen, Johann Rupert, says he fears shortages will lead to food riots in parts of the world.

South Africa will be spared much of this, as the country is a food exporter and, as a nation, is food secure. We are likely to be affected more by price increases than availability. The impact will be felt hardest by food insecure poor families and communities, for whom price rises make essential foods less affordable, even if they are available.

The World Food Price Index dipped slightly in April from a record high in March, but was still a third higher than the previous year. South Africa’s food price inflation was just over 6% that month, with the major global impacts of the Ukraine war still to be felt.

This is a situation, as FairPlay has pointed out previously, that calls for the urgent removal of the 15% value added tax (VAT) from the chicken portions most consumed by low income households, and particularly the popular packs of frozen mixed portions.

Chicken is the country’s most popular and most affordable source of meat protein. However, poor communities are haunted by hunger and malnutrition, the cause of the country’s 27% rate of child stunting, which results from malnutrition in the first two years of life.

Vat-free chicken is needed now, and the need will become more critical in months to come.

Other countries are worse off, says BFAP

In a comparison of South Africa with six other countries (counting the European Union as one), the Bureau for Agricultural Policy (BFAP) found that food inflation in South Africa was lower than all of them except China.

The BAFP’s latest Food Inflation Brief put South Africa’s food inflation in April at 6%, and China’s at 1.9%. Highest of all was Zambia at 14.1%, followed by Brazil at 13.5%, Kenya at 12.2%, the United States at 9.4%, and the EU countries combined at 8.6%.

The BFAP also publishes a “thrifty, health food basket” measuring food price inflation for a low-income family. It put the cost of this food basket at R3 098 in March 2022, 0.2% above the previous month and a 5.3% increase on the previous year.