What’s on your shopping list, and how much do you spend on your weekly shop? With food prices rising across the world, Geoffrey Chongo from our partner Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in Zambia, explains that revealing the story behind your shopping basket can be the first step to tackling hunger.
“There are two challenges facing poor families in Zambia: poverty and unemployment. 65% of people live below the poverty line, and it’s worse in rural areas. The economy is growing, but poverty is not reducing at the same speed.
We have a six million-strong workforce, but only 10% are in formal employment. Others get by through trading, farming, growing crops but not selling them. It’s a precarious way of life. And of course they are not paying tax, which limits the amount of money government has coming in.
During the financial crisis in 2009, the mining sector took a huge blow: companies closed, people lost their jobs and ended up on the streets. Government revenue dropped drastically as taxes on trade and exports plummeted.
These are macro-economic issues, they can seem distant from people’s daily lives and struggles. And that’s where our Basic Needs Basket comes in.
We start with the contents of a shopping basket: maize and beans, soap and charcoal, the bare minimum that a family of five needs for a decent life. Not including health care, school fees or even mosquito nets. Just the basics. The shocking thing is that even teachers and nurses, people who are not among the poorest, can’t afford to meet their basic needs.
Each month, the public, media, unions and government eagerly await the announcement of what’s in the Basket. We calculate the costs of food and compare these with average salaries. We analyse and map the trends. Then we release the information – and information is power.
Employers use it to review the wages they pay, helping them make sure they are treating their staff fairly. And when they are not, unions can use the basic needs basket as a negotiating tool and, if necessary, a moral foundation for calling a strike.
It’s a challenge to traders to sell at a fair price, as once prices across markets are made public, people know what price they should expect to pay. And it’s a guide for family budgeting, healthy diets, even – for the lowest income families – a wish-list to strive for.
It shines a spotlight on government policies and has even prompted major changes, such as adjustments to the income tax threshold. It sounds technical, but it has made it easier for thousands of people to make ends meet and feed their families. It’s made a difference.
We’re a Jesuit organisation, and everything we do is anchored in Catholic Social Teaching. The Basic Needs Basket is about basic rights, but above all it’s about human dignity.”
In a world where nearly a billion people go hungry, yet we have enough food for everyone, we should all be hungry for change. This is the second in a series of blogs showing how CAFOD’s partner organisations across the world are doing amazing, innovative things to tackle hunger. We can play our part too, by calling on our government for a fairer food system >