BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA
LEADING consumer bodies have confirmed that residents are experiencing decreased food levels in households on the back of the rising cost of living.
This comes following a recent damning report by the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) that noted a decline in household food stocks.
The same report said poorer households had already exhausted their stocks.
The decline is occurring despite the annual inflation rate declining to 50% in August, down from 56% in July and 107% in June, as officials continue to correlate data based on the widely discredited official forex rates.
“The price hikes have contributed to a very sad situation where they have to wake up on a daily basis and struggle to buy food when they are also running out of stocks. For most or some of the people the stocks have already run out,” National Consumer Rights Association (Nacora) spokesperson Effie Ncube said.
“As much as the country got a very significant harvest in the last season, it is not every household that achieved that. So, there are those who still have food stocks and that tends to cushion them from buying everything like mealie meal. But, for some of the people, they are already in trouble.
“The significant things like cooking oil or sugar are not found anywhere; no one grows those so consumers have to buy. And because they are expensive, it means not every person is able to buy sugar or cooking oil. It means a lot of households will go to bed without adequate food.”
He said it was important for the government to take heed of the report by FEWSNET as it is an early warning system.
“It (FEWSNET) is giving the government and other stakeholders an indication to plan ahead before every person runs out of food,” Ncube said.
While the official forex rate remains at US$1:ZW$86,30, its parallel market rate is around US$1:ZW$160, leaving the market to use the second rate due to its higher value.
As a result, consumers’ personal incomes are getting eroded by this disparity with average monthly earnings ranging between ZW$25 000 and ZW$35 000 against a cost of living now estimated at nearly ZW$50 000.
In a snap survey, some cash dealers based in the capital and in the dormitory town of Ruwa, warned that the parallel forex rate will reach US$1:ZW$170 by the end of the month.
According to a Zimstat 2019 labour report, there were 3 455 928 private households in the country and these constituted a population of 14 215 810 persons, resulting in an average household size of 4,1 persons.
“You will find that the cost of living has gone up nearly five times in the last three months and this has continued to drain the little resources. People are feeling the pinch. There is food in the shops but consumers cannot afford to buy it.
“With school fees demands, citizens are complaining about shortages of money. They are forced to borrow.
“And, it means that the household economy has shrunk to depressing levels and at this stage the government has to reflect on the suffering of the people and come up with tangible solutions to address the disparities,” Harare Resident Trust director Precious Shumba said.
He said the pricing of goods and services had gone out of hand as most shops were pegging prices against parallel forex rates.
Personal incomes and jobs have been on the decline leading to depressed consumer spending with the government offering no supplementary budgets this year to cushion consumers.
“Due to the price hikes that we have experienced over the past few months it is increasingly becoming difficult for consumers to secure food…Generally, as the Consumer Council, we are concerned about the increase in prices because there is no justification whatsoever,” Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) acting executive director Rosemary Mpofu said.
“We are aware that manufacturers, millers and many other key stakeholders in the food value chain are accessing foreign currency at the auction rate at the RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) so there is no justification to price hikes, particularly, for food.
“At the moment, we keep seeing an increase every month and we want to understand the causes. Our retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers are so used to just increasing prices even though there is no justified reason.”
She said even pricing in US Dollars was high and warned that consumers may decide to save money to purchase goods from neighbouring countries where prices are lower.