Mother faces daily struggle for survival as food prices skyrocket 

Baby bottle laid out on pink blanket
Maluluke feeds her baby breastmilk and formula.

Patricia Maluleke* is fraught with worry. The unemployed 29-year-old from Thohoyandou, in Limpopo, recently had a baby girl and it’s been a struggle. 

“My daughter is only four-months old, but I am already facing uncertainty whether I will be able to provide her with healthy nutritious food when she turns 6-months. Right now I can barely afford basic food items for myself,” she says. 

The annual consumer price inflation decreased to 5.4% in June from 6.3% in May, according to the latest consumer inflation report released in July by Statistics South Africa. But most basic food prices remain far above 2022 levels. Basic food items such as maize meal, instant noodles, samp, onions, carrots and potatoes remain expensive to many South Africans. 

The cost-of-living-crisis means that many mums like Maluleke, often have to choose between food, or formula and diapers.

“I am always stressed about what I am going to eat the next day as I have been struggling to find any kind of a job for years now,” says Maluleke who holds a Bachelor of Environmental Science Degree from the University of Venda.  

Cost of living 

It’s the rising cost of food in particular that has Maluleke worried. Her baby is healthy at the moment but what will happen in the coming months? 

She has reason to be concerned. South Africa has high rates of malnutrition. As many as 27% of children under five are stunted. Children who are stunted are short for their age, this is a sign of impaired growth and development associated with poor nutrition. 

The situation is exacerbated by high unemployment. In 2021, one in five homes didn’t have enough food to eat. More than half a million homes with children younger than five went hungry. The 2020 Child Gauge report published by the University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute, estimates that nearly two thirds of South African children (59%) live below the upper-bound poverty line (R1,183) and one third live below the poverty line (R571).

According to the recently released Household Affordability Index, the average monthly cost of feeding a child a basic nutritious diet is R899,54. The child grant is R500. 

Breastfeeding factor

Food insecurity is one of the main reasons why women stop exclusive breastfeeding early. Exclusive breastfeeding means feeding your baby breast milk only and not any other foods or liquids (including formula milk and water) for the first six months of life. 

Breastfeeding is the natural and optimal way of feeding infants as it provides them with the best nutrition they need for their growth and development. It also has positive effects on the mother’s health, well-being, allowing for the mother and baby to bond.

But exclusive breastfeeding rates in South Africa remain low at 32%. At the same time, sales of formula milk have doubled over the past 20 years.

Maluleke says that she currently feeds her baby both breast milk and formula. She says she often doesn’t produce any breast milk. 

She knows it is not recommended, but she is doing that because her breasts are often dry, without any milk. Giving a baby formula milk, water, tea, other drinks, cereal or other foods in the first six months can increase their risk of getting diarrhoea, pneumonia and allergies.

“I suspect that it’s this stress that is causing my breasts to be dry most of the time,” says Maluleke.

She uses the child grant to buy the cheapest formula milk she can find. But she is concerned about the side effects of the formula. The use of formula milk may have long-term effect on a baby’s health including a higher risk of developing diabetes later in  life. 

Tackling food insecurity 

“I just pray and hope that my daughter remains healthy. But I’m worried because the child grant is the only way I can support myself and the baby. I don’t know where the next cent will come from,” says Maluleke.

“Soon she’ll start to eat solid food, but without a source of income it will be difficult to afford.” 

Deidre Adams, FoodForward SA, Fund Development Manager, says that one way to address malnutrition and food insecurity is through collecting surplus food and re-distributing it to those who cannot afford to buy adequate healthy food.

FoodForward SA is a non-profit organisation that safely and cost-effectively secures quality food and makes it available to those in need. 

“There are millions of food that is lost or wasted each year and much of this is edible, surplus food. We recover surplus food from the supply chain, farmers, manufactures, retailers and re-distributes this to 2,750 vetted beneficiary organisations, enabling us to feed over 900,000 vulnerable people,” says Adams.

Maluleke also calls on the government to increase the child support grant to around R1,500 so that unemployed parents are able to purchase healthy food for their young children.

“The child grant is helpful in terms of buying certain basic necessities for the baby such as nappies and formula milk, the grant alone is not enough to be able to afford all the important items and food which the baby requires as everything is becoming expensive each day.”-Health-e News.

*Not her real name.


  • Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

    Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.

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