Saturday, February 27, 2021

Food prices are driving too many families into destitution

Since the arrival of Covid-19 pandemic food prices have become a real issue for too many people.

People who were climbing out of the claws of poverty have been knocked back into it.

Getting them out will be a near impossible task.

Too many people are unable to afford the basic food.

Families are starving, but have nowhere to turn to.

Surprisingly is also rife among people who are employed, especially at low income levels, including in government.

Thankfully, school rations where they exist have been a big saving grace for school going kids.

While schools are open, these kids have access to at least one full meal a day.

This is far from being enough, but it goes a long way in saving these little kids from all out starvation.

During the lockdown when schools were closed and meals were not availed, school closures have in many instances led to real starvation of the school going kids.

Pronouncements by the World Bank, the United Nations and the local elite that Botswana is a higher middle income country ring hollower and hollower by the day, especially for people who are not only poor, unemployed but also now increasingly hungrier.

With the pandemic taking its heavy toll on communities, anxieties are rising.

The pessimism is palpable.

Of course Botswana can still step from the brink.

More indigenous Batswana can be allowed to play a bigger role in the economy of their country.

A majority of them have shown ingenuity to go into sectors that could assist them out of poverty.

Since the pandemic started. Many people tried to go into poultry production.

Their efforts are being continually undermined by regulations that effectively support monopolies.

At the moment government licensing on issues around the poultry feed and even hatching favours the mafia currently dominating the industry. Through the Competition authority, Botswana Government is facilitating the dominance of the poultry industry by a few.

Poultry farming has the potential to empower small farmers, especially women. 

That can only happen if the sector could be liberalized.

There is also the pandemic economy at play.

Food retailers, many of who are also operating as cartels are taking advantage of supply chain disruptions that have occurred as a result of

lockdowns during the pandemic.

All evidence points to the fact that authorities are ill prepared or unwilling to intervene. 

Late last year the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s food price index hit a six-year high. 

That alone should have acted as a warning.

Yet for Botswana a closer look shows that price increases have not been a function of demand and supply.

There are many underlying reasons for it.

Botswana is a net importer of food.

But the food price increases are mainly a result of artificial distortions not borne out of market fundamentals of supply and demand.

It is mainly a function of the food distributed rather than the food available or produced.

Inside the country there are cartels that pass for retailers.

And the rules of competition are almost non-existent.

Even weaker is the enforcement of those competition rules.

The Competition Authority has proven too weak and in some instances compromised.

Since Covid-19 started year essential food prices have driven too many people into poverty.

If left for too long, a more serious issue of nutrition defects especially among kids will be the outcome.  

Clearly for Botswana the issue is not food shortages.

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