Poorest of the poor will bear the brunt of higher food prices

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OSHIKANGO – The poorest of the poor in Namibia will have to bear the brunt of a string of first effects of the current drought as Namib Mills recently announced that the price of its maize meal products will increase by 17% on March 23. Chicken prices are expected to rise by some ten percent on the same date.

Speaking to Farmers’ Forum from the shade of trees in their villages, farmers in this area say maize meal forms a staple dietary item for the majority of Namibia’s destitute families. With many families headed by pensioners currently earning only N$600 a month, the increase spells doom and disaster, not to mention widespread hunger in a time where food insecurity is already an issue in March. The price increase was necessitated due to the severe drought causing a drastic drop in crop expectations, and because of poor rainfall in the main white maize production areas, the price of raw white maize has drastically increased with about 50% during the last couple of weeks. The effect on white maize meal is an increase of 17%, effective March 23.

The tipping point regarding the mid-summer drought was January 29 when the commodity market, Safex, started to rise dramatically over a two week period, from levels of N$2 026 ex-Randfontein to a high of N$2 998. Negating the positive development earlier this year when on February 9, Namib Mills announced a price reduction on maize meal of approximately 5%, Managing Director Ian Collard says: “The recent extreme volatility in the white maize price (a result of the poor crop expectations) makes it necessary to increase prices accordingly.  After taking the recent decrease into account, the aggregate increase is in effect 11% calculated on the price-level before the 5% decrease.”

Pensioner Klaundi Mwanyangapo bemoans the development, pointing out that bread already costs around N$10 per loaf, and with the increase of its ingredient this price will surely also go up.  She adds that chicken in Namibia has become all but unaffordable for old people in particular, and what pensioners will have to eat in the coming months remains to be seen.

National cereal production of 122 390 tonnes last year reflected an increase of 50 percent higher than the previous season’s harvest but yet two percent below average. Much of this improvement comes from the commercial areas where most of the production is under irrigation. Namibia was cited recently as the SADC country that has recorded the biggest increase in food insecurity with an eleven-fold increase. Namibia uses 150 000 tonnes of the global maize consumption of 840 million tonnes, and despite the improved harvest, Namibia will as from this August  still rely on South African imports of about 130 000 tonnes to supply its population of some 2.2 million people. South Africa has recorded a record-breaking maize harvest of 14 million tones, the highest yield since the mid-eighties. Last year, Namibia had to import 170 000 tonnes of maize.

It is now a foregone conclusion that imports will be much higher this season with dismal crops expected.

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