The drought currently gripping the country is taking its toll on Johannesburg citizens – especially the poor – as food prices shoot through the roof.
In the wake of the crisis, the City of Johannesburg is to dig deeper into its coffers to meet the food requirements of thousands of the city’s disadvantaged residents, according to Member of the Mayoral Committee for Health and Social Development Councillor Nonceba Molwele.
The highest jump in prices of fresh produce was this month. Since January 1, the price of potatoes has gone up by 95%, tomatoes (97%), onions (41%) and bananas (10%).
MMC Molwele and Social Development Executive Director Wandile Zwane say the City will have to spend R30-million between now and June this year to fund the City’s Food Resilience Programme after the number of beneficiaries of food parcels leapt almost twofold in two years.
“Last year, we provided food parcels to almost 19 500 beneficiaries a week at a cost of R2-million a month. This year 34 200 people are being assisted at a cost of R6-million per month. From February, an additional 8 100 people will be fed, bringing the total number of beneficiaries to 42 300. This means between now and June we will need about R30 million to feed the poor, mainly as result of the escalating food prices. As a consequence we will now be providing food parcels twice a month instead of weekly,” MMC Molwele said.
Tshifhiwa Madima, Executive Manager of Agribusiness at the Joburg Market and his colleagues, Executive Manager: Strategy and Transformation Moronngoe Tladinyane and Agribusiness Specialist Researcher Sydwell Lekgau, said the drought had become very severe.
“The City’s Food Resilience Programme is under threat because of the impact of the drought and heat wave,” Madima said.
Tladinyane said the drought and heat wave had affected both the quality and quantity of fresh produce.
“This will increase food insecurity. [The Department of Social Development] might have to reduce the size of hampers so that what is available is spread evenly among the needy,” said Madima.
The three executives gave a breakdown of how the Joburg Market was performing under the circumstances.
“Year-on-year prices have gone up, while volumes have dropped,” said Madima
“Our mandate is to provide a platform and systems to facilitate the trade of fresh produce. We’re like the Joburg Stock Exchange – we provide sales processes and systems for approximately 5 000 active commercial and small-scale farmers,” he said.
Lekgau said during the FY 2014/15 the market had a turnover of R5.7-billion, up from R5.6-billion for the 2013/14financial year. Every month 100 000 tons of fresh produce are delivered to the market from all over the country. The market earns 5% from sales while market agents are paid a commission of not more than 7.5%. The rest is paid to farmers.
The Joburg Market accounts for 47% share of all fresh produce, which makes it the biggest in the country. Madima said the drought had affected both the volumes and quality of the fresh produce delivered to the market.
“All farmers have been severely affected by this. But small-scale farmers are worse off. At least commercial farmers have insurance to cover some of this. Overall production went down. When it’s not raining, farmers scale down or stop planting certain crops. The heat wave did a lot of damage as it compromised the growing of crops,” said Lekgau.
Tladinyane added: “When supplies drop, prices go up, especially for vegetables. Fruit volumes don’t drop as much as cash crops because they have a longer cycle,” she said.
Despite these challenges, MMC Molwele expressed confidence that the City’s efforts would go a long way in assisting residents who live in dire poverty.