A number of shops are now restricting customers to only one bag of mealie-meal or one 2l bottle of cooking oil per customer as a means to combat ongoing mealie-meal and cooking oil shortages. It is something we last saw back in 2019 at the height of the previous drought when Zimbabweans had to wait in lines in for hours just to get a bag of mealie-meal. Back then the situation was made worse by the government’s desire to control the price of maize-meal in shops which led to supermarkets always running out of mealie-meal.

Currently mealie-meal is selling for about US$6 in downtown and Mbare tuckshops and about $3 500 ZWL in supermarkets depending on the brand. The cheapest brand we could find was Sunnyrise refined mealie-meal which was going for $2 850 in Food World. While tuckshops are happy to have you buy as much mealie-meal as you want, supermarkets are different. For some reason they think it is prudent to sell you just one 10kg bag. This does not seem to be stopping from supermarkets from running out though as they tend to run out of mealie-meal and cooking oil in a matter of hours. Tuckshops meanwhile, seem to have, like always, an endless supply of mealie-meal and cooking oil.

An indefinite future

As shortages continue and prices continue to rise the food security of Zimbabweans remains uncertain. The government has made some conflicting remarks in the past couple of weeks. At one point they claimed there was no reason to worry as we had enough grain reserves to see us through. Something that became doubtful when they roped in the army to help coerce farmers make deliveries to the GMB. Now we hear they are scurrying around buying trying to import maize.

Will the situation improve? No one knows, but one thing is certain. Even with the one bag one bottle limits. Things are still way better than they were back in 2019. That can change quickly if the government is tempted to introduce price controls again. If that happens those long winding lines at supermarkets will resurface.