ZIMBABWE bakers yesterday appeared defiant on recent bread price increases despite a spate of arrests for overcharging, saying selling at the official price would threaten the sector’s 20 000 jobs.
President Robert Mugabe&
#8217;s government has said it plans to boost wheat output this year to a record 500 000 tonnes amid fears of bread shortages, the second staple food after maize.
The southern African country has experienced food shortages since 2001, which Mugabe’s government attributes to drought but which critics blame on his policy of seizing white-owned land that has hit commercial farming.
Police this week arrested more than 282 bakers and shop assistants for selling bread above the gazetted price of $85 000. Bakers charge between $130 000 and $160 000 for a standard loaf.
The government accused the bakers of profiteering, saying the increases were unfair as the price of wheat has not changed despite inflation well over 1 000%.
Wheat is a controlled commodity sold by the state Grain Marketing Board. But bread producers say the price of flour has jumped 60% in three months as millers imported additional wheat to meet demand. “It is important for the consumers to understand that a loaf (of bread) is not about flour,” the National Bakers Association said in a statement, noting it took some 22 ingredients to produce commercial bread.
Zimbabwe’s economy has been in recession for eight years where spending power in poor households has been falling in the face of rising prices due to shortages in fuel, foreign currency and food.
Fuel prices doubled this week, forcing a hike in commuter transport fares which analysts say would further fuel inflation, which hit 1 193 percent in May.
Most shops had no bread yesterday with bakers arguing they would not produce at a loss.
“We are not producing bread at the moment until a number of issues have been clarified,” an official at a Harare bakery outlet told Reuters. “But there is not doubt we are not going back to the old price,” added the official. — Reuter.