HARARE – How can we ever forget what happened when the Zanu PF government introduced price controls on most food commodities in the mid 2000s?
By forcing shop owners to sell goods at prices which were not economically sustainable, supermarket shelves emptied almost overnight.
Many supermarkets closed their doors altogether, others even resorted to selling firewood after the policy literally drove them into bankruptcy.
We saw the results for ourselves as we walked around huge supermarkets and found nothing at all to buy.
Not even any perishables.
Day after day we trekked from shop to shop looking for anything to feed our families on; we joined queues and bought whatever we could afford on the black markets that sprung up in every car park and down every alleyway.
We got our relations to post us food parcels; our friends sent boxes of food from neighbouring countries on the roof racks of buses and in the end we all went shopping across the border, buying basic groceries in Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa.
Now, just three months after the 2013 elections and the end of the GNU, we hear that government and industry are talking about their latest plans for consumer control.
They are mooting a new policy which will force retailers to have 50 percent local stock in their shops.
This news brings chills to our spines.
Not because we do not want to buy Zimbabwean goods or support our local industry, but because it will inevitably lead to a rapid emptying of supermarket shelves again.
Every Zimbabwean wants to support the local industry and local products but we can only do so if we can afford their prices, they improve the erratic supplies, and frankly, their often dubious quality control.
Where is the wisdom in forcing retailers to have 50 percent of local stock when there aren’t any local alternatives for most of the imported products on supermarket shelves?
Pick any meal and try and make it Zimbabwean content — it is almost impossible.
Breakfast cereals are all imported from South Africa and in most supermarkets there are no Zimbabwean alternatives at all for cornflakes, bran flakes, pro-nutro or oats.
The only locally made, heavily sweetened, breakfast cereal has wheat as its core ingredient; wheat which has undoubtedly been imported.
If the core ingredients are imported does that classify them as ‘local?’
In most supermarkets there is not even any fresh Zimbabwean milk, only long life milk which is far more expensive then fresh milk.
This attempt to put local products on our plates at lunch and supper time yields the same results.
Most of the wheat in our bread and the maize in our mealie meal is imported.
Compelling shops to stock 50 percent local products does not get to the root of the problem.
It will force struggling consumers to spend more money than they should not to mention taking away our right to freedom of choice.
Production is what Zimbabwe needs, not control.
We need to see farmers who got everything for nothing producing proper crops of essential grains.
We need to see the resuscitation of our plantations of fruit, nut and coffee trees so we can stop importing jam, marmalade and coffee.
We need to see fresh milk back in our supermarkets.
The only way to get 50 percent local products back in our shops is to make farmers produce at least 50 percent of our food again.
Enforcing 50 percent local content punishes consumers for the failings of Zimbabwean farmers who have had 13 years to practice.