Reports of an armed gang robbing a bread truck during a delivery in Harare, and making off with 500 loaves of bread, has focused attention on the plight of Zimbabweans who are facing severe hunger.

This followed earlier reports that the largest bakery in the country has closed several of its outlets as it was unable to bake bread due to the shortage of wheat flour and other ingredients.

The Lobel’s Bakery group announced at the beginning of July that it will close its bakeries in Bulawayo and Harare indefinitely, reducing production by some 50%. Lobel’s said the closures were unavoidable because local flour mills were unable to supply enough flour to bake bread. A second bakery, Baker’s Inn, has reduced its production by 80% since the beginning of the year, citing a shortage of wheat and daily interruptions in electricity supply as reasons.

Wheat millers, in turn, say they are unable to secure supplies of wheat due to the shortage of foreign currency to pay for imports. The Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) said in a statement that the organisation asked the Zimbabwean government to prioritise its request for foreign currency to pay for the import of wheat. GMAZ says in its statement that millers urgently need $12.5 million to pay for wheat awaiting transport from Beira, Mozambique.

Apparently, Mozambique refuses to release wheat before it receives payment. Previously, it struggled to payment from Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean newspapers and other news services, such as ZimLive, have reported that the price of bread has doubled within a few days a week ago, if bread was available at all. An investigation by Reuters has found that bread is just about unavailable in most shops in the bigger cities.

The serious shortage of bread and other foodstuff seems to be largely the result of bungling government policy, exacerbated by unfavourable weather conditions since late last year.

While the country continues to suffer the impact of Zimbabwe’s controversial land reform programme under previous president Robert Mugabe, the situation has been made worse by subsequent policies introduced by a government ignorant of basic economic principles. When prices of basic foodstuff started to increase, government did not realise, or denied, that it was due to its land reform policy that reduced supply.

Its response to the crisis of higher food prices and the growing inability of its citizens to afford food was to introduce price controls on basic foods such as bread. Most governments understand the political and social effects of hungry people. Most governments of poor countries have had first-hand experience of bread riots and know, at least, that even the French revolution in 1789 was caused by high bread prices.

More recently, the so-called Egyptian spring protest in 2011 and the current upheaval in Sudan were the result of hefty increases in the price of bread.

But the Zimbabwean government did not believe economic textbooks and decided to follow the tried and tested route to failure – that of introducing price controls to force companies to produce wheat, flour and bread at lower prices – with the effect that supplies fell even further.

As one baker in Zimbabwe was quoted in the state-owned newspaper: “We switched to baking rolls and other products that are not regulated instead of baking bread at a loss under price controls.”

True to basic economic principles, the staple food of the poor disappeared off the shelves when the bread price was set artificially low and the supply of bread rolls and confectionery excluded from price control increased to the benefit of the rich. Or in the (close to last) words of the last queen of France, Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat cake.”

Last week, the Bakers’ Association of Zimbabwe said that the official price of bread is $2, while most bakers apparently sell bread for $2.30. That price refers to American dollars, with the price much higher for anybody who wished to pay in whatever local currency Zimbabwe is using now.

In reality, the actual bread price is a moving target as the Zimbabwean government has recently declared that only the Real Time Gross Settlement Dollar (RTGS) are allowed as legal tender for all transactions, ignoring more economic principles. In this case, any currency only serves a form of payment if it is accepted by both parties to the transaction.

In other words, the academic definition of money is anything that is acceptable for the payment of goods and services or the settlement of debt. The RTGS dollar is not, despite declarations by the president, finance minister or its central bank.

In SA, 10 cent pieces and Kruger rands are officially both legal tender, but most retailers would not accept either a gold coin or 10 000 copper coins at the till.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwean (or any other) government cannot force millers, bakers and shops to produce bread and sell it at low prices for worthless pieces of paper. Economic theory predicts that such a policy would lead to high demand, low supply and big shortages.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations warned some six months ago in a Global Information and Early Warning System report that Zimbabweans will face severe food shortage this year.

The report predicted that food insecurity will affect 2.4 million people in the country around March 2019 while waiting for the wheat harvest to reach the market.

This compares to 1.05 million hungry people in the same so-called lean season of the previous year. That 2.4 million people are now suffering from hunger is due to a lower maize crop and the shortage of foreign currency to either agricultural inputs or wheat and other staple foodstuffs.  

The UN report warned that the 2018 maize harvest was around 21% lower than in 2017 due to adverse weather conditions and confusion around a new government policy to support small farmers. The UN comes to the conclusion that approximately 28% of the rural population would require humanitarian food assistance this year. Food assistance would also be required in towns and cities.

Another recent report, by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), forecasts that things will get worse. The report predicts that Zimbabwe’s maize harvest will fall by another 53% in 2019 to only 800 000 tons, which “is not even half of what Zimbabwe consumes in a year”. This forecast tallies with forecasts by other researchers.

A villager inspects her failing maize crop in rural Bindura near Harare, Zimbabwe. Picture: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

The USDA says it is unclear where Zimbabwe will get the maize supplies from as harvests in South Africa and Zambia, usually, Southern Africa’s biggest maize exporters, are also expected to decrease. South Africa is expected to deliver about 1.1 million tons for the export market, but this will most likely go to Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland.

The organisation also warns SA consumers that “these factors will most probably add upward pressure on prices in the coming months when the demand from Zimbabwe and Zambia intensifies, especially in the case of white maize”. 

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By the way, I wonder how Zim is going on the 4th industrial revolution, because it seems to be all we’re pinning our hopes and dreams on.

Once again history does what it does best: repeat itself. The exact same result and this irrespective of race, culture, gender, location, or even time period. The disheartening thing about this is that in spite of the many witnesses the warnings are ignored.

Well said! As generations pass, the same historic mistakes get repeated, it just take place in a different world in look and feel. Humanity learns very little.

Magnus Heystek at a recent conference mentioned how complacent S’Africans are, taking into account historic developments north of our borders.

where are all those lefty western free market thinkers that wanted the changes and sold it to the the people.

I’m going to need crowd-funding in order to print a few hundred thousand bumper stickers, to be delivered to all Zimbabwe’s (still running) vehicles:

(…maybe such bumper-sticker will be more fruitful…no pun intended…for application to vehicles in SA, as Zimbabweans has learn’t their lesson, but the majority Saffas has not as yet. And our country sorely lacks education….and such sticker’s message carries more practical wisdom than a local matric certificate. The majority is still in the dark where food comes from, so my bit of contribution towards the country’s education for the knowledge benefit of all. Plenty of obese locals around….for how long?)

From time to time I have an ant problem. It’s not a big deal. I just go to the local hardware store and buy one of those ant traps. It looks like a round, plastic disk with small holes. The ants walk into the little holes on the side of the disk, never to return. Ants leave a scent trail so other ants follow the trail and end up in the same place. Easiest way to wipe out an entire colony.

Ants are really successful insects with a level societal order that probably exceeds anything humans can put on the table. On top of that, they’re hard workers too. Never saw an ant take a smoke break or leave early. No sick leave either. Work or die it is.

I feel sorry for the ants, so I leave the packaging next to the plastic disk. The packaging makes things very clear. It says “KILLS ALL ANTS FAST” in big red letters. There’s even pictures of dead ants with their little legs up in the air on the packaging. The message is unmistakable even for those ants who can’t read.

One couldn’t ask for a bigger warning if you are an ant walking past the packaging on your way to the ant trap (and towards what will be a certain death). Yet, in spite of my efforts the ants do not see the warning and merrily blunder on only to die in a chemical death trap. All of them. Even lemmings have a better survival rate.

My conclusion is that ants lack the perspective to see the truth about their own impending extinction. I’m not sure humans are any better at it.

Of course it is insensitive. Do you think elections are anything close to free and fair in Zimbabwe, even if it where close to half the people did not vote Zanu PF.

In any case even if a 100% of the people voted Zanu PF nobody deserves to die from starvation. Would you let animals die from starvation.

You are part of the problem not part of the solution. What do you think the reaction of a black South African would be if he saw your bumper sticker? Would that go any way to dispel his long held view that white people view him as lower than animals?

This is why South Africa are doomed. This circular hatred of each other. When a white farmer gets murdered some black people rejoice, when black Zimbabweans die from hunger we cry out that it is well deserved, even considering bumper stickers. Wash, rinse, repeat

I feel for ordinary Zimbabweans. It is a known fact that in 2000 Morgan Tsangari won the election, but the ANC led IEC signed off on an election result that kept BOB in power! Ironically our government in a sinister way is responsible for the demise of Zimbabwe. Tsangari would not have chased white farmers of their land had he won the election then! Thabo Mbeki and Bob are cousins/ distant family? You get what you vote for does not apply in Zimbabwe, because of the tyrants/dictators that rule! They oppress whatever comes in their way, supported by their SA comrades!

Comparison of the murdered white farmer and the starving black Zimbabwean is just ridiculous. Its not due to the farmers actions that he got murdered. But the Zimbabwean could have prevented starvation by voting for a government that protects property rights.

The way the government in Zimbabwe behaved for decades they cannot expect much help from the west. lets see if the Chinese send them a gift-I suspect not!

China should invade Zim right now. Zim’s current population is 14million….and have calculated that it will take about 15,000 diligent Chinese to control the whole country.

In SA they steal money from cash in transit trucks. In Zim they steal bread. Just sit back and think about this for a second. This is a very bad country to live in.It is common knowledge that we are on a downward spiral. I hope it never gets this bad in South Africa.

*they brought this dire straight state situation of current zimbabwe all over themselves – empty promises means empty economical results – that is including a bread under the arm; *everybody else is blamed for the pathetic economical / social situation of the country, except the people directly responsible for it and still floating around(mugabe & company) and treated like kings while the rest of the nation is starving – please explain how that one that works in zimbabwe; *for how many years they did not want to / was not able to / seems still not being able to see that their government is farming backwards – everybody has a piece of land delivering sweat blue all at the end of the day; *south africa inherited millions of non-taxpaying zimbabwian citizens – just sponging on this country’s taxpayers; *worst part is our own government did not learn anything or took note what happens when a government mess up a country’s economy due to a political party’s limited insight how the economy actually works – nationally and internationally; *if the anc can not make immediately an economical paradigm shift, south africa will for sure be an economical mirror image of the current zimbabwian economy in due course.

Did the ANC at least stop the farm attacks yet? Pretty sure the successful farmers are are getting older and not being replaced by a younger generation.

How do you overcome the problem of inflation (hyper), that is created by government. You buy assets. In which order (property, shares etc.) Any other suggestions? What has happened in Zimbabwe with residential property. Was it part of the land grab?

When Bob Mugabe took over the then Rhodesia in 1980, the GDP was bigger than that of South Korea. Except for petrol and arms, the Rhodesians produced everything they needed in the country. What could go wrong you would think …. ? I wonder if Juju and his leftie buddies ever take the trouble to go north of the border and see the misery?

I recently flew from Lubumbashi across Zambia, Zimbabawe to SA. What was notable was that in both Zambia and SA there are many huge centre pivot irrigation areas with crops in the ground, even is a few places in DRC. I Zimbabwe there was zilch, despite there being dams with water and rivers flowing through suitable areas.

@Dog: we went on a birding trip to the Eastern highlands at the end of 2017. I have never seen a country so broken. Every single thing in the country is out of order. I remember the then Umtali as a boy … to see it again was simply astounding. I have never seen people so poor, comparable to Gaza in Moz and rural Angola (we were there three months ago, again camping through central and southern Angola). Simply boggles the mind to see so much abject misery … and then be exposed to the loony left anti white rhetoric in South Africa. It’s de ja vu all over again to quote Bera. Depressing to say the least

Donald Trump is not right about most things….but “sh..hole African Country “ comment springs to mind…and he is right about that. it took Zimbabwe 30odd years to become a failed state – that means we have only 5 years left until South Africa suffers the same fate. Looks like we will make it! Well done ANC!

Having farmed for 42 years through dry and wet seasons I can tell you now that with proper conservation farming methods and adequate fertilizer you can still raise an acceptable crop in marginal seasons.

Regardless of the current struggles and low productivity resulting in the importation of food and other commodities, the Zimbabwean land reform was and is the greatest transfer of wealth ever. Its true success is long term play, not short as most critics on this thread expect and base their critique. Already records have been broken in the gold leaf “tobacco” production and the stats are there for all sundry to see. With proceeds from mining and export of tobacco and other exports, Zimbabwe can easily meet its import consumption. Next year same time, would you furnish us with the deaths from hunger?? No amount of backlash can deter Zimbabwe from ascendry, and do not compare zimbabwe to any other country for Zimbabwe is unique and a unique people and country we are.

“gold leaf “tobacco” production” you say? Well if you have not noticed tobacco is on its way out? by the time Zim is geared up Cigarettes will be banned world wide!!

Further details about the surcharge will be shared ‘at a later stage,’ and vulnerable households can apply for staggered debt relief.

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