FOOD BUYING PATTERNS in rural Eastern Cape and Limpopo

How rural households meet their food needs is shifting the food-security policy debate. This became clear from research collected from both female- and male-headed households in rural Eastern Cape and Limpopo. PETER JACOBS, MOGAU APHANE and ROBERT DZIVAKWI report. 

Food security covers multiple facets. One part covers the volume of food production – the availability dimension. Another component includes the quantity and quality of foods purchased – the access dimension. Food security also includes the diversity and nutrients of foods consumed - the nutritional adequacy dimension.

Even if a country produces enough food, it does not automatically mean that every household is able to access nutritionally adequate food. In contexts where households increasingly rely on purchased foods, they are more vulnerable to food inflation spikes and crises that cut household incomes.

Female-headed households in Limpopo and Eastern Cape have lower food and total household expenditures than males - in absolute money values - as reported in table 1. Female-headed households in Eastern Cape are ranked worse-off in terms of these indicators and they have the highest food spending share calculated at 65%. Following them are female-headed households in Limpopo, who spend 53% of total household spending on food. This confirms a stylised observation that poorer households – who are usually food insecure- spend a much larger share of overall household spending or income on food. This signals, coupled with the fact that they also spend the lowest absolute amount of money on food, an inability to afford sufficient food for the household.

Differences in household expenditure

Rural households usually purchase bulk volumes of food items (especially cereal-grain staples and processed foods) once per month – which lowers the costs of multiple trips per month to retail outlets in nearby towns. One basic approach to help characterise the food-buying patterns is to estimate the shares of households that spend 50% or more of the monthly food bill at supermarkets. Results reported in Table 2 show that 65–80% of households buy most of their bulk food supplies from supermarkets – without any substantial gender-based differences.

The average value of bulk foods plus fruits and vegetables procured from supermarkets is very revealing. Male-headed households in the Eastern Cape are an exception in terms of high-spending on bulk foods bought from supermarkets, the reasons for which we did not investigate as it fell outside the scope of the research.

Examined alongside the findings in Table 1, it seems foods purchased from supermarkets weigh heavily in total household food spending, which suggests that rural net consumers might be particularly vulnerable to food price inflation.

Supermarkets also sell fruit and vegetables to rural net consumers as shown in Table 2. The average rural family in Limpopo spends more on fruit and vegetables at supermarkets than those in the Eastern Cape, but in both provinces female-headed households spend less: R54 per household in the Eastern Cape compared to R91 for Limpopo. Whilst female-headed households spend 37% less than male-headed families in Limpopo, in the Eastern Cape this gap is slightly above 50%. Accounting for these inter-provincial and gender inequalities in supermarket procurement of fruit and vegetables requires further research. This is critical to explain whether a rural household can afford a nutritionally balanced food basket.

Food systems in developing countries are undergoing wide-ranging transitions with numerous rural farm households purchasing their foods from supermarkets. To understand the food system transition in rural South Africa, we need high-frequency information gathering tools to better track the implication for household food security.

Dr Peter Jacobs, chief research specialist, Economic Performance and Development, HSRC; Mr Mogau Aphane, junior researcher, Education and Skills Development, HSRC; Robert Dzivakwi, master’s student in economics, University of the Western Cape.

This research has benefited from a scientific cooperation grant (NRF UID: 64527) awarded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Research Council of Norway (RCN) in the 2007–2010 funding cycle.