Slight relief for consumers is on the cards as the effects of the drought are starting to improve.
While maize meal prices increased sharply from last year to January, a local retailer said while they bought a ton of maize meal for R5000 in the past, it now cost them R3000.
This is a welcome decrease as the lower prices will trickle down to consumers.
Nigel Connellan, managing director of Western Gruppe Trading, which runs 13 Spars around East London, said prices were definitely on the decline, although it could be some time before the lower prices reflected on the shelves.
“The strength of the rand versus the dollar plays a large part in this,” Connellan said.
“The larger maize production companies might take longer to drop their pricing due to the large quantities they store. It will be a slow process but prices are dropping.”
National Agricultural Market Council’s Christo Joubert said October last year saw maize meal prices soar, costing about 40% more than it did during the same period in 2015.
He said where consumers used to pay an average of R30 to R35 for a 5kg bag, the new prices saw them paying about R58 for the same bag.
A 2.5kg bag, which used to average R25 before the drought hit, increased to about R30.
A price check by the Saturday Dispatch in three different stores in East London revealed the most expensive price for a 2.5kg bag was R30.29 with a 5kg going for R60.29.
In its January 2017 food barometer, The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa) charted the changing prices of a 25kg bag of maize meal over the course of last year, noting the impact on society.
In January last year, the price stood at R179.14, going up to R244.32 in the same month this year.
The month-on-month increase averaged R10.83 while the year-on-year increase was R65.18.
The total percentage increase came to 36%.
Last month, Pacsa said the foods listed in the “big food” category, of which maize meal is a part, were said to have all increased.
This, they said, impacted largely on low-income households as these are the foods the families secure every month for basic energy.
“The price of the big foods determines dietary diversity on the plate. High increases mean that low-income households cut back on foods which are important for balanced nutrition, such as meats, fish, eggs, dairy and vegetables.”
Despite the relief, maize meal prices could see another increase due to the arrival of the fall armyworm, which damages crops.
Grain SA public relations officer Alzena Gomes said they could not comment on any current or possible future crop damage.
Gomes said the fall armyworm had been identified in six provinces so far, with the Eastern Cape not affected.
“ We cannot yet comment on how much of the maize crop has been affected.”