Friday, June 5, 2015

South Sudan: Low Income Earners Hard-hit as Cost of Living Shoots up

Torit, South Sudan: Low income earners Hard-hit as Cost of Living Shoots up

TWS||Vincent Buruga||Nick Waigwa

Ms. Rose Auma is seen talking to herself, counting her fingers, waving her hands in the air and biting her lips as she walks to a Market in Eastern Equatoria's State capital, Torit. One would easily mistake her for a mad person, but she is not. Rose Auma is just in a budget crisis.

Rose Auma:Pic Credit-Vincent Buruga
Asked why she was talking to herself, Auma said, “I’ve just received my salary. I have not bought anything yet but I’m planning what to do with the money I have, that’s why you heard me talking to myself.”

Ms. Auma, teaches at a primary school in Torit. She, like other teachers in Torit receive meager salary. She confesses that the salary can hardly sustain her family’s basic needs such as food for a month. 

The situation has been aggravated by high cost of living occasioned by the ongoing violent political crisis in South Sudan. Prices of commodities in local markets have gone up against static income sources of many South Sudanese.

“I’m out of my mind because of the high prices in the market. I’m thinking of what to buy but the prices are very high and my salary is not enough to afford a bag of maize flour,” lamented Auma noting that, “teachers in grades 14 and 12 earning between 230 to 400 South Sudanese Pounds per month are really in trouble. The money is not enough to buy food commodities in the market.” Ms. Auma

At the market, Rose Auma spends hours trying to shop around for what her money can afford but the budget fails to balance. She is unable to purchase the food items she had intended get for fee her family and remain with some balance to pay school fee for her children.

“I wanted to buy maize flour, but the money is not enough because a 25Kg bag is selling at 200 South Sudanese Pounds (SSP) while the 50Kg is going for SSP400. I have children to feed and pay for their school from my salary.” Auma

The high cost of living which is also being felt in other parts of South Sudan has forced Ms. Rose Auma to consider seeking refuge elsewhere particularly if the country’s peace and state of economy fails to improve.

A farmer admires a banana plant in Khatire
“Since this money can’t sustain my life, what should I do and where should I go? I’m thinking of going out of my motherland to start a new life as a refugee in another country. If the government would do something so that peace can come to the country, it will be better but now people are suffering.” She said  

The primary school teacher expressed concern over the decision by traders in Torit to increase prices of locally produced commodities. Her suggestion to the Eastern Equatoria’s State Government is that it considers regulating prices of commodities in the market especially those from within the country.

The South Sudanese Pound (SSP) has been loosing stability against US dollar in the past year, with reliable sources from the country revealing that the dollar exchange rates had increased to high of SSP 12 for $1. In June 2014 a dollar was retailing at SSP 4.2 in the local Forex market.

The impact of the exchange rates on prices of commodities has attracted mixed reactions from locals including Rose Auma who believes that the weakening strength of the South Sudanese Pound against the US Dollar should only affect the cost of imported goods.

State Assembly Speaker Alberio Tobilo (in blue) in his cassava farm in  Khatire. With him is a Torit based Journalist
Eastern Equatoria State Assembly Speaker, Alberio Tobiolo Oromo, on May 16 joined other campaigners in calling for a price cut on locally produced products such as vegetable whose prices are not affected by the exchange rates.

“Why are people who collect mangoes free of charge from forests, along the valleys and others who fetch water for free from the rivers using the justification of dollar rates to increase prices of such commodities? This is unfair.” The speaker said.

He observed that the dollar exchange rates should only affect prices of imported goods such as construction materials like cement, iron sheet and others products which are imported from the neighboring countries.

“How does the dollar come in to increase the price of local chicken to SSP 100? How is the dollar related to gravels, meat, mango or even green vegetables?” He wondered. 

Traders at the Torit market are also against the campaign to push prices of local produce. 

Ms. Susan Keji, retails green vegetables at the market and argues that should the push to have prices of local produce lowered succeeds, her buying power will be weakened.

Susan Keji and other vegetables retailers in Torit Market buy vegetables at a wholesale price from farmers and retail in the local market for a profit. 

 “We divide a bundle of vegetables which used to sell at SSP 1 by three to make a profit. Farmers have also increased prices.” She noted.

She said the profit made from the sales is what they use to fend their families. The business is currently faced with challenges due to the general rise in commodity prices. Their requests to farmers to reduce the wholesale price have not been successful.
Vegetable and bannas for sale in Khatire. Farmers have also increased wholesale prices 

 “If they were to increase the size, it would be good, but they have refused to do that. When we tell them to reduce, they say when they go to buy sugar, it’s very expensive” Said Susan. 

A local alcohol brewer, Ms. Achiro, has also revised the price of brew by 100% attributing it to the high cost of the raw material for preparing the brew.

A liter of the brew she prepares in her home is now selling at SSP 4 up from SPP 2 following the increase in the price of sugar to SSP12 up from SSP5 a Kilo.

“If I don’t add this amount to the price, I will not be able to afford sugar for yeast and even get a profit to supplement my husband’s little earnings.” Said Achiro

Meanwhile, a Torit based economist and business consultant, Stephen Ihude Oduho has defended the retailers saying their decision to increase commodity prices is justifiable.

Ihude Oduho noted that the retailers who sell locally produced products also consume imported products whose prices are directly affected by foreign currency exchange rate

He says the only way for these retailers to make a business sense, sustain their profit margins and their ability to purchase imported goods, is to increase prices of the products at the retail level.
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