As the grip of prolonged power outages tightens its hold on South Africa, consumers are being compelled to change food consumption habits, leading to a fear of a surge in food insecurity. The poultry industry is also grappling with the challenge of getting their chickens processed and onto the shelves.

By Staff Reporters

The FairPlay Movement recently hosted a webinar in which experts discussed significant trends in South Africa’s food consumption patterns. They also emphasised the increasing economic pressures faced by poultry farmers, which are wreaking havoc on the agribusiness sector.

According to the wise minds of the industry, the hurdles that South Africa is currently grappling with can be traced back to the pesky problem of excessive load shedding. They said it is important that swift action is taken to address this pressing issue.

The surge in food prices has hit South Africans hard, leaving a significant impact. Mervyn Abrahams, the voice behind the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, has revealed that the cost of a consumer’s basic food basket is on the rise.

The cost of a basket of food items including maize meal, rice cake, flour, sugar, cooking oil, potatoes, onions, chicken pieces, beef, tomato, tea and margarine has gone up by 10.6% compared to the previous year, increasing to R480.

“We have seen an increase of about 10.6% in the cost of this basket year-on-year, which translates into an increase of R481,” said Abrahams.

Consumer spending is on a downward trend.

Abrahams noted that as a result of rising prices, consumers are altering their food purchasing habits.

In a report by  Abrahams explained: “Households are cutting back on food consumption. The only way they can do that is to cut back because already the cost [of the food basket] exceeds what a national minimum wage would bring in for a worker each month, which would be in the region of about R4 000.”

Abrahams also added that due to the unreliable energy supply, households are cutting down on their consumption. He explained that individuals prefer to cook and consume meals that can be quickly finished rather than those that can be stored for a longer duration.

He further stated that customers are no longer making purchases in large quantities anymore: “They can no longer do that because the chances of it spoiling in the fridges are so much more real. The possibility of an 18% electricity tariff increase will mean that household food security will drop when we move beyond that increase in June and July.”

According to Abrahams, the issue of food insecurity is prevalent among working-class families and is gradually impacting middle-class households across the country.

The poultry industry is feeling the pinch.

The energy challenges faced by the nation have had a notable effect on poultry farmers who rely on a consistent and dependable source of electricity. As per Izaak Breitenbach, the general manager of the South African Poultry Association’s broiler division, the shortage of energy has had a considerable impact on the provision of poultry products.

Breitenbach pointed out that a whopping 70 food stores were left without any poultry products due to the unfortunate circumstance of the birds being stuck on the farm instead of being readily available in the marketplace for slaughter.

“When 70 food stores went without poultry products simply because the poultry products and the birds couldn’t be slaughtered, it was because they were standing on the farm and not in the marketplace,” Breitenbach explained.

Most consumers can no longer afford chicken

Historically, chicken has been the go-to option for those seeking a budget-friendly source of protein. However, times have changed, and this feathered delicacy has now become quite a pricey purchase.

“It’s not far-fetched to look at the problem in the long term, to see a possibility of food insecurity where people simply cannot afford the price of chicken.”

According to Breitenbach, the production of chicken in South Africa is sufficient. However, the challenge lies in the slaughtering process and the subsequent distribution of the product in the market. He issued a cautionary statement, emphasising that the importation of low-cost chicken is not a viable solution to the issue at hand. According to him, this development is likely to have negative implications for employment opportunities within the industry.

He put it in plain words: “It will have a major impact on the local South African economy. It will destroy some of our own companies.

“While we are faced with this crisis, the solutions have to make sense in terms of long-term economic growth and not solutions that are going to be temporary.”

The visionary behind the FairPlay Movement, Francois Baird, has sounded the clarion call for swift and decisive action. He expressed concern that the government is not taking the necessary steps to prevent an impending catastrophe that could have dire consequences.

“The government is not doing what it must do to avert what could be a real disaster looming ahead,” said Baird.

Baird noted that a group of small farmers have initiated a petition to request the government to eliminate the value-added tax on chicken feed. Nevertheless, he warned that this action would not provide significant assistance to big producers.

Additional reporting by

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