Bread shelves in most Zimbabwean shops were empty Tuesday as bakers scaled down production.
The shortage of the standard loaf of bread comes after a crackdown on bakers selling bread at prices not approved by the government. But bakers have insisted the issue involves a shortage of flour rather a the crackdown. The retail price of the standard loaf shot up by more than 50 percent last week to more than $1.30.
The government responded by arresting the executive of one of the country's leading bakeries. A baker's association spokesman told VOA Monday that other top bakery managers had gone into hiding for fear of arrest.
Burombo Mudumo the chairman of the National Bakers Association told the state-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, that there is very little flour in the country and bakers were trying to stretch the available flour as far as possible.
Zimbabwe does not produce enough wheat to meet its needs. Production has been further affected by President Robert Mugabe's sometimes-violent land reform program launched in 2000. The country does not have enough foreign currency to import wheat to plug the deficit.
A bakers' association official told VOA on condition of anonymity that his association since last year made numerous approaches to the government for a review of bread prices. He says the government has not responded. He blamed Zimbabwe's hyper-inflationary environment for the increase. Inflation stands at more than 1,200 percent.
A visit to some bakeries in Harare revealed empty bread shelves, but a glut of other products on which there is no price controls such as fancy bread loaves and rolls.
For a majority of Zimbabweans, these are prices well out of reach with an estimated 80 percent of the country's workforce unemployed and the majority of those with jobs earning salaries way below the poverty line.
In a separate development internet traffic through the country's biggest international link, which is controlled by the state telecommunications company, TelOne, has been cut off as the company has failed to settle a debt of $700,000. Internet companies that route most of their traffic through TelOne are the worst affected but traffic on all providers has been slower than normal for the past week.