The Lusaka Basic Needs Basket for May has been released. Full JCTR Press Release and associated report below.
Lusaka Basic Needs Basket - May 2009Press Release (9 June 2009)COST OF FOOD RECORDS SUBSTANTIAL INCREASE IN THE MIDST OF EXPECTED DECLINE IN PRICES, SAYS JCTRThe continued increase in the cost of food is hurting the Zambian economy and undercutting development prospects of the country as increases of food have multidimensional effects on various sectors of Zambian society, observes the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection as it releases its Basic Needs Basket for the month of May 2009.The Basic Needs Basket which measures cost of living for an average family of six in Lusaka and other urban areas of Ndola, Kitwe, Luanshya, Kabwe, Livingstone, Mongu and Kasama has starkly revealed that local food prices on the Zambian market have continued to increase despite what would have been the case of experiencing some general reduction due to post harvest effects.From costing K788,200 in the month of April 2009, the cost of basic food items for a family of six in Lusaka totalled K815,850. This is a clear manifestation of a rise in cost of living unaffected yet by seasonality influences. This nominal increase was mainly influenced by the cost of tomatoes, onions, green vegetables and dairy products. The Basic Needs Basket (BNB) research revealed unprecedented increases in Tomatoes and Onions of over 100%. Tomatoes increased from K4,700 to K10,500 per Kg. Onions on the other hand increased from K5,200 to K10,200. This could be explained by the limited local supply of the items leading to importing products at high prices. Similarly, green vegetables increased from K4,200 to K7,500 per Kg while meat increased from K18,600 to K19,500. Increases were also registered in milk, eggs, kapenta and cooking oil. On the other hand, reductions were recorded in the cost of mealie meal, from K67,300 to K62,500. Minimal reductions were also observed in sugar, bread, dry fish and beans.The prevailing trend of unrelenting increases in food prices obviously worsens conditions for those who are already food insecure and may push more people into hunger and malnutrition. The effect of long term experience of unaffordable food cost could, for instance, be seen in the recently published Zambia Demographic Health Survey which revealed that 45% of the Zambian children were stunted, a sign of chronic malnutrition. This is aggravated by the high cost of non-food items such as housing, utility costs, etc., Adding these costs, the total BNB for May was K2,240,280 up from K2,219,230. “Fundamentally,” says Miniva Chibuye, Coordinator of the Social Conditions Programme, “high food prices and attendant inability to meet the necessary non-food items naturally lead to increase in demand for upward wage adjustments and also contributes to strikes as is currently obtaining in the health sector”.However, the flip side to the argument of high food prices having negative impacts on Zambian society is the obvious argument that high food prices benefit the producers. “This is true to the extent that certain preconditions are put in place for rural populations to participate effectively in production and marketing arrangements,” observes Ms. Chibuye. Where these proper production and marketing arrangements are not in place it is actually rural population who bear the brunt of increased prices.Agriculture has long been recognised as a key sector for the improvement of livelihoods. Thus, there is need to go beyond the rhetoric of problem identification to actual leveling of the challenges affecting agricultural development in the country. These challenges that must be practically addressed include improved infrastructure such as irrigation facilities and construction of all weather roads, access to credit facilities and promotion of sustainable agriculture methods. Successful implementation of these strategies will create a win-win situation for both urban and rural areas as it will be cheaper for small scale farmers to produce and market their agricultural produce therefore translating into more available and cheaper food items.[For more information, contact the Social Conditions Programme of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection, P. O. Box 37774, Lusaka, Zambia; tel: 260-211-290410; fax: 260-211-290759; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; internet: www.jctr.org.zm]