Kudzanai Gerede Business Correspondent
Retailers have pledged to slash prices of basic food staffs which have been unjustifiably escalated following false messages of impending food shortages that circulated on various social media platforms this past weekend leading to panic buying by consumers.
Unofficial reports that the country was plunging into a food crisis saw some retailers failing to cope with the upsurge in demand for various food items, notably sugar and cooking oil, resulting in price increases. A survey by Post Business revealed that prices of most foodstuffs like maize-meal, bread and milk were stagnant but there was a rise in prices of sugar and cooking oil. Some retailers were selling a 2kg packet of sugar at US$2,50 from an average price of US$1,80 while 2 litres cooking oil was sold at US$ 5,20 from an averages of US$3,20.
The majority of the larger retailers like TM/Pick n Pay and OK, however, remained constant with their pricing structures. In an interview with Post Business, Zimbabwe Retailers’ Association president Denford Mutashu said food prices would go down during the course of the week with the supply of commodities expected to increase as retailers recoup from a buying rush over the weekend.
“Businesses should desist from undertaking unjustifiable price increases but we have done our own research and engagement and we will begin to see prices going down in the shortest period. Basically, prices went up soon after malicious messages circulating on various social media platforms falsely claimed that the nation would soon be gripped by food shortages with the intent to bring despondency and chaos in the country. This was not just untruthful, but malicious as it led to a lot of panic in the market leading to massive hoarding of commodities,” said Mutashu.
He, however, alleged sabotage within some sections of the oil processing industry citing that there was uneven distribution of the cooking oil to wholesalers which was creating an artificial shortage.
“There is unfair distribution of some cooking oil processors to wholesalers in order to create a scarcity hence justify price hikes. We have done a survey and realised some cooking oil processors are supplying selected wholesalers at a high price and the rest are not getting any. We urge cooking oil processors to honour the commitment they made to the nation and to Government, which led to the introduction of SI 64 to empower local manufacturers,” he added.
The local cooking oil processing industry was operating at over 50 percent capacity utilisation of its state-of-the-art equipment following massive investments into the sector from South African manufacturer, Willowton Industries in Mutare, Olivine, Surface Investments and United Refineries. Confederations of Zimbabwe Industries president Mr Sifelani Jabangwe said in an interview the food processing industry had the capacity to meet demand for commodities such as cooking oil and sugar.
“Supply was caught unawares, hence this artificial shortage of commodities will soon be replenished and prices will fall,” he said.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe last week signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Afrixembank for a US$600 million nostro stabilization facility to meet the country’s foreign payments of key raw materials for manufacturing and other priority items such as fuel.