HARARE – Reports that the proposed fortification of basic foods will trigger an estimated 10 percent increase in the price of bread and maize meal — at least according to millers — are enough to shock any right thinking Zimbabwean, as the majority among the country’s over 13 million people are already struggling.
As reported in yesterday’s edition of the Daily News, government has predicted an insignificant 0,2 to 1,3 percent increase as a consequence of the project in which millers would be compelled by law to add nutrients to everyday foods — maize-meal, wheat flour, sugar and cooking oil — with the aim of reducing long-term effects of poor nutrition, especially among the poor.
Small-scale and middle-scale industries facing challenges in the obtaining harsh economic environment, the government says, will be exempted from the programme for some time, a situation that could lead to price distortions on the market as established firms lose their market share to budding industries.
Despite the inevitable price increases, the addition of highly nutritious foods and supplements to the diets of poor mothers could help reduce child mortality and malnutrition.
However, although it is a positive move, the timing may not have been the best for Zimbabwe.
The country’s economy is currently in a desperate state with the Zanu PF government seemingly clueless on providing lasting solutions anytime soon.
The closure of hundreds of industries and resultant job losses in the last few years, developments that have led to an explosion in the number of vendors on city streets as people battle to eke out a living, the biting cash crunch that has continued even after the introduction of bond notes in December last year by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe are all ingredients that may make any upward price adjustment sensible.
In a way, the millers’ argument — although it must be taken with a pinch of salt — seems to make sense, especially when they raise issues of the unavailability of foreign currency to import the fortification chemicals and equipment which may push them to turn to the parallel market.
Most Zimbabwean businesses have a history of profiteering even in instances when their products are not competitive enough. Nobody is sure whether government consultations were adequate as they claim but all the same, there is need to keep the millers’ intentions in check.
Somehow, government is supposed to come out clean on all these aspects that seem to make millers circumspect.
At the end of the day, it appears more ground should have been covered to ensure the implementation of this vital programme will not ultimately prove costly for the ordinary Zimbabwean.