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Food prices look good in Zimbabwe – ‘til you look at the incomes

by Oxfam | July 5, 2011

$1 for a kilo of beautiful avocados. $1.60 for a litre of 2% milk. A cabbage or kilo of bananas for 80 cents. A tin of beans for 69. A jar of peanut butter for $1.29. Six eggs for a dollar.

On the face of it, the prices at the Spar in Harare aren’t bad – if you’re comparing them with Loblaws, Sobey’s or Safeway and you’re earning a Canadian income.

But when you consider that teachers in Zimbabwe have just won a raise to $234 a month – after months of job action – you realize just how much of a stretch it is to put food on the table.

After years of hyperinflation where the price of food could treble between the time you picked up an item from the shelf and brought it to the cash, prices have stabilized in Zimbabwe. As a result, store shelves that had been empty are now brimming with products. But don’t confuse available for affordable.

For many in Zimbabwe – where media report the unemployment rate at 95 per cent and wages remain very low – anything beyond the basics is a struggle. Like most of their African neighbours, they spend 80 per cent of their income on food – much less than the 10 per cent paid by the average Canadian family.

As a result you don’t see many pot bellies in Harare or people with a melon – at $8.54 – or a pound of butter – at $6.80 – in their grocery cart.

Instead they rely heavily on staples grown by their rural relatives – corn, kale and whatever meat they can spare – and fill up on saza – a traditional porridge made from white maize – and rice from Malawi.

The harvest in the northern parts of Zimbabwe wasn’t bad this year but too much rain and then not enough cut yields in the south by half. There’s money to be made shipping maize from one part of the country to the other and they may be able to stretch this year’s crop to meet the needs of a nation ‘til next year’s grains can be harvested.

But in the meantime, the daily struggle for enough food for all continues.