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Price Control Causes Bread Shortage in Zimbabwe


Two schoolgirls show poor quality bread they purchased in Harare
Long lines of people wanting to buy bread are becoming a common feature in most parts of Harare. But unlike the perennial lines for gasoline, which is in short supply, the bread lines are not caused by a shortage of flour. They are caused by the government control on the price of this staple food.

A walk into most bakeries in Harare will reveal specialty bread and other pastry products on the shelves, but most of the time the standard loaf of bread is not available. The standard loaf price is controlled by the government.

A member of the Bakers' Association who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity says most small bakeries produce bread rolls and other products with fancy names on which there is no price control, rather than bake the standard loaf and lose money.

He said it is not economical to bake the standard loaf, which sells for the equivalent of 50 cents at the official rate. He said the price needs to be double that for bakers to make money. The Bakers' Association has applied to the government for permission to raise the price of bread to an economical level.

The Bakers' Association member said the government is importing wheat and there is no shortage. But he said a steady supply of wheat is not guaranteed as the country is experiencing a chronic shortage of foreign currency.

Zimbabwe needs about 400,000 tons of wheat a year, but has never produced that much. An agricultural spokesperson said wheat production peaked in 1998 at 350,000 tons. In 2003 less than 150,000 tons of wheat were produced, resulting in severe bread shortages.

Production has decreased due to drought and the government's sometimes violent land reform program launched in 2000. A lack of capital for agricultural equipment and materials has also helped lead to the drastic fall in agricultural production.

Meanwhile the Zimbabwe Central Statistical Office has announced that the May inflation rate has risen to 144 percent from the April rate of 129 percent. Zimbabwe's inflation rate peaked at more than 600 percent in January 2004.

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