THE shortage of basic commodities has sparked panic buying in Zimbabwe amid fears certain basic food stuffs may disappear from the shelves in many retail shops, a Standardbusiness survey has shown.
BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA
On Friday, Standardbusiness conducted a snap survey in Harare’s central business district visiting large retail stores such as TM Pick n Pay, Spar, OK Zimbabwe, and Choppies.
In each of the stores, the Olivine cooking oil brand, stork butter, margarine and D’lite cooking oil had run out.
Pure Drop, a cooking oil brand manufactured by Surface Wilmar, had also run out at all these stores except a few bottles left on the shelves at Spar.
The only cooking oil brands available included Better Buy, manufactured by National Foods Limited, Roil by United Refineries Limited and Zimgold by Pure Oil Industries. The oil was being sold for an average of $3 to $5 each per 2-litre bottle.
The survey also showed that TM Pick n Pay is restricting consumers to a maximum of two 2-litre bottles of cooking oil per customer.
At the time of the survey, consumers could be seen buying boxes of the cooking oil at Spar, OK Zimbabwe and Food World supermarket.
A housewife who identified herself as Florence, who was shopping at OK, said she did not like the cooking oil that remained on the shelves but was left with no choice but to buy it as she might end up having no cooking oil at all.
“The problem with this cooking oil that is there is that it is of inferior quality to Olivine that we are used to. The reason why we are buying a lot of it is that there is likely to be shortages and we may as well stock something with the little money that we are withdrawing from the banks, but there is also need to keep some of the money at home,” Florence said.
Interviews with other customers also revealed that the recent withdrawal limit resulted in people hoarding scarce basic commodities and keeping the little United States dollars people managed to get from the banks at home.
Customers said the future was not certain due to the pending introduction of bond notes and many said they believed the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe was not being honest or open with their plans.
“We do not know where we are going and as such, do not know what to do. We see that now we are being limited to buying two bottles of cooking oil, a development we fear could spread to other products as well,” said a customer who refused to identify himself.
Sources at OK supermarket said the reason they were not stocking Olivine products was because the company had recently experienced a breakdown at their factory and was therefore unable to meet demand.
Mid last year, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce led by its minister, Mike Bimha, conducted a tour of the retail sector to identify imported products that could be manufactured locally in order to limit imports.
As a result of the survey, heavy import duty was imposed on products which could be produced locally to boost local production.
Recently, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce president Davison Norupiri said the survey led to nearly 100% of the cooking oil on the shelves being manufactured locally.
However, the problem was that the local cooking oil industry was operating below capacity and having the imported oil removed from the market increased the pressure on the local producers. The local producers now face challenges of obsolete machinery, low capacity and increased demand, resulting in them failing to meet demand.
The cash crisis, however, became the final nail in the coffin which the Oil Expressers Association of Zimbabwe (OEAZ) president Sylvester Mangani said had left local producers unable to purchase the necessary raw materials needed to produce oil.
As a result, local manufacturers are predicting a 30% slump, which translates to an estimated eight to 10 million litres of cooking oil needed to satisfy the market.
However, top economist Prosper Chitambara said he did not think that the shortages would lead to a repeat of the 2008 situation where the market ran out of basic commodities.
“I do not think we will have a repeat of the 2008 situation because we are using the United States dollar, which is different from what we were using at that time. What I think could happen is that we could end up importing more from South Africa as it would be cheaper,” Chitambara said.
“Right now Zimbabweans are panicking over the introduction of the bond notes which are due to come in October. There has been an increase in the amount of withdrawals where people are emptying their deposits as a result of panic.”