What’s the climate got to do with the price of bread? | WWF South Africa

What’s the climate got to do with the price of bread?



Posted on 15 April 2016
The cost of our national breadbasket is skyrocketing.
© Melissa du Preez/WWF
The hardest part of payday has to be budgeting for groceries. It’s nearly impossible because prices seem to rise so often. Why is it so expensive to buy the basics? We grumble about the cost of living for good reason. The cost of food really is a problem. The poorest of our country spend roughly a third of their salaries on food.

So why is everything so expensive? It’s simple really, the more difficult it is to grow something, the more pressure it’ll put on your pocket.

Our national food basket has taken a heavy knock as drought continues to starve South Africa of desperately needed rainfall. Most South Africans see it as a once-off event that will end once El Niño fades. Not true. In fact, it’s illustrating our very real, very near future if we do nothing to turn the tide on climate change. We’re already seeing it.

Our shopping carts are starting to tell a story. Our country is heavily reliant on staples like maize and wheat for the production of bread, pap, flour, rice, red meat, poultry, eggs and milk. Last year we felt a 30% fall in maize production – something incredibly damaging for South Africa’s ability to feed itself. This means we’ve had to import some of our maize from other countries like Zambia and Mexico (adding pressure on price for the average Joe) but Zambia, too, saw a 21% decline in production in 2014. So, what happens when we have to battle to produce our own maize or import it from other struggling economies feeling the same bite? It’s not just the staples suffering from reduced maize production. It’s also used in animal feed such as dairy cow and cattle fodder, so as the cost of feeding rises, so, too, does the cost of meat and dairy products.

As extreme weather like drought, sun damage and hail grow in frequency, the more expensive it becomes to put food on the shelves

In a nutshell, the hotter or wetter it gets, the higher the risk of pests and disease. This means the input cost for pesticides and nutrients for the soil rises. Interestingly, this cost isn’t absorbed by the retailer – farmers take the knock. This extra pressure on farmers forces them to use more damaging methods of production that pollute natural resources that, if further polluted, add even more pressure. It’s a vicious cycle. Not to mention that most food wastage happens before it even reaches our shelves. “Unpretty” appearances on fruit and vegetables escort perfectly fine and nutritious food to the bin. This is because we, as consumers, find spots and perceived flaws as a sign of a sub-standard product. This obviously leads to less food making it to our stores – less food “suitable” for sale means more cost. So don’t be petty about pretty fruit.

Population growth of 25% between 2000 and 2013 has added pressure on very limited farming space. A 2015 WWF report found that only 1% of South Africa’s land has the right climate and soil combination needed for rain-fed crops and only 3% has truly fertile soil. Also 20% of South Africa’s commercial farms produce 80% of our food.

As extreme weather like drought, sun damage and hail grow in frequency, the more expensive it becomes to put food on the shelves. It’s all about supply and demand. If there is limited supply then retailers have to pay more and charge more for that item. Conversely, if there is a lot of produce then the price charged will be less.

Between 2006 and 2008 average world prices for rice have risen by 217%, wheat by 136% and maize by 125%. At the moment, climate change feels like running a race with no clearly defined path, rules or finish line. We all know we need to go in a certain direction but the guidelines are foggy and bogged down by jargon.

That’s why this year’s Earth Hour will Shine a Light on Climate Action, focusing on demystifying and simplifying the everyday actions that can be taken to solve the problem.

Secondly, remember the three C’s: Cook from scratch; Cook at home; Cook with friends.
The cost of our national breadbasket is skyrocketing.
© Melissa du Preez/WWF Enlarge