THE cost of living for a family of five has skyrocketed to nearly K8,400 in January, 2021, a new all-time high, mainly triggered by high inflation, says the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR).

In a statement showing the latest Basic Needs and Nutrition Basket (BNNB), the JCTR stated that the cost of living for a family of five had spiked to K8,394.01 last month compared to K7,404.05 in December, 2020, triggered by huge price increases in essential food items, namely kapenta and potatoes, among others, which sharply rose.

According to JCTR data, kapenta registered the highest jump month-on-month by nearly K85, helping to push the overall increase from both food and non-food items to an unprecedented K990 in just a one-month period.

“The cost of living for a family of five as measured by the JCTR BNNB for the month of January stood at K8,394.01. This shows an increase of K989.96 from the December, 2020, basket, which was K7,404.05. The rise in the basket is attributed to increase in the prices of both food and the non-food but essential items. From the basic food items, kapenta increased by K85.82 from K268.67 to K354.49 for 1Kg; potatoes moved from K50.55 to K106.36 an increase of K56.01 for 4kg; the price of 40Kg of vegetables increased by K55.44 from K506.37 to K561.81; bananas moved from K226.78 to K273.41 showing a K46.63 rise; milk showed a K40 price increase moving from K199.97 to K239.97 for 10 litres; pounded groundnuts moved from K42.83 to K74.62 for a Kg; beans increased by K26.12 from K127.80 to K153.92 for 3Kg; soya pieces increased by K25.91 for 2Kg moving from K87.18 to K113.09,” read the statement.

“The price of onion, other fruits, tomatoes and chicken showed increases ranging between K18.84 and K15.74.”

The non-food items on the other hand equally registered massive price jumps, such as charcoal, which spiked to an average K567.20 from K353, an increment of over K214.

“From the nonfood, but essential items, the price of charcoal increased by K214.20 from K353 to K567.20. Housing and electricity costs increased by K190 and K37.50 respectively from the 2020 figures as this is updated annually. Key to understanding these price increases is a diverse set of contextual challenges that the country continues to grapple with. The fish ban continues to mount pressure on the price of kapenta. We further anticipate that this will continue as the fish ban is only scheduled to end in May, 2021. Price movements from December, 2020 to January, 2021 are the highest month-on-month record since January, 2020. Seasonality has also affected the price of vegetables in the country as was the case in January, 2020 where the price of 40Kg of vegetables was K669.77. Overall, the January, 2021 basket has shown a 13.26 per cent increase from the January, 2020 basket,” it stated.

“While the nation has continued to record favourable rainfall across the country which is projected to result in another bumper harvest in the 2020/21 farming season, significant challenges remain. The annual inflation rate for January, 2021, stood at 21.5 per cent according to the Zambia Statistics Agency. This has been the highest annual inflation rate since April, 2016. But a look at selected items on the JCTR BNNB, shows an average increase of 50 per cent between January, 2020, and January, 2021, for foods such as beef, beans, chicken and milk. The price of beef increased by 67.74 per cent from K72.71 per 2Kg to K133.71 per 2Kg, milk shows a 55.59 per cent increase, beans increased by 53.92 per cent and chicken increased by 31.62 per cent.”

And the JCTR, the renowned Catholic-run organisation, called on government to address the country’s challenging macroeconomic environment to bring down the cost of living or risk relegating more Zambians into abject poverty.

“With these figures it is evident that price increases in some basic items are much higher than the average annual inflation rate. Thus, indicative of the significant challenges that Zambian households are facing in meeting their day-to-day basic needs. The critical need to prioritise clear interventions that will help address the nation’s macroeconomic challenges therefore remain a must if households are to register improvements in this facet,” stated the JCTR.

“We also call upon government in collaboration with other key stakeholders to explore interventions that would help cushion fishermen during fishing ban periods in order to not compromise their food security and consequently nutrition status. Failure to address the nation’s macroeconomic challenges and provision of adequate social protection will continue to push individuals with no or lower incomes further into the poverty trap, thus eroding Zambians’ ability to live dignified lives.”

Data from the JCTR’s monthly survey usually takes into account the cost of living for a family of five across 15 major urban towns in the country with an emphasis on nutrition.

Last month’s increased cost of living coincided with a correspondingly high jump in the annual rate of inflation, which stood at 21.5 per cent.