Sunday, September 20, 2020

Food prices should be monitored

Not long ago President Ian Khama bemoaned the high food prices.
Like the President, we are at a loss to explain and justify the high food prices.

We think it’s now high time that leading food outlets provided the nation with a genuine explanation so that if there is any room for policy intervention authorities can think about it.

Everything else equal, food prices should have started to come down just when fuel prices started to descend.
But, as we know, that has not been the case.

Last year, when Brent crude price was at its record high, the rise in food price was directly attributed to high fuel costs. But to our surprise, when fuel prices started to collapse the same did not happen with food.

In South Africa, big chain stores have been forced to reduce their prices after they were accused of possible collusion.

Surprisingly, even after the South Africans cut their food prices, Botswana’s have remained stubbornly high.

Notwithstanding the fact that many of the chain stores trading in Botswana have their headquarters in South Africa, the same cuts have not been extended to Botswana.

This should be a source of concern.
High food prices should be a reason big enough to encourage us as Batswana to strive to produce more of our food. We just rely too much on South Africa, including for such supplies like milk.

The high food prices, especially in such things like grain, bread and cereals remain a serious concern.
Our problem is that it is the poor and vulnerable who are most affected by these predatory prices.

And, of course, as things stand our Government is helpless and cannot intervene.

But we urge the leading shops in Botswana to once again look at their price code on food and say if there is nothing wrong.

The reality is that fuel price is once again steadily on the rise. And it will not be long before food prices skyrocket, only to be told that it is all so on account of fuel. How strange!
If it’s possible, Government should also investigate the possibility of collusion among the traders.

We note with satisfaction that it will not be long before Botswana has a Competition Law, which we have long called for to take care of such ills as collusion.

But still, in the meantime, the poor are suffering and have nowhere and no one to turn to for help or redress.
Of course, this is not a call for price control as that would be going back to the failed systems that plagued many economies until in the late 1990s.

All we are saying is that just as government was forced to intervene with transport costs following the collapse of fuel prices there may come a time when even on food such an intervention will be necessary.

There was a lot of resistance among transport operators to reduce fares until such time that government literally had to read them the riot act.
The stubbornly high food prices are perhaps the best example of how a drive for profit can lose its face as to be unmistakably amoral.

High food prices caused strikes and unrests in many parts of the world last year, we hope that will never happen in Botswana. The truth of the matter is that a rise in food prices has caused many people to be so poor as to be unable to provide for themselves with the bare essentials that only two years ago they were taking for granted.

A way has to be found to break this poverty trap, which we think is, to some extent, partially human induced.

On another note, we encourage Batswana to take advantage of the recent rains to go back to their ploughing fields to try and produce food for themselves.

On that score, Government has come up with initiatives and schemes, which, we think, if properly harnessed, can in the near future turn the fortunes of this country around when it comes to food self-sufficiency.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.