The Sunday News
Dumisani Nsingo/Njabulo Bhebe, Business Reporters
MORE than 3 000 community bakeries have been established in various remote areas in the country as part of Government efforts to increase the production of confectionery products, including bread, at affordable prices to rural communities.
Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister Dr Sithembiso Nyoni said the Government was satisfied with the progress undertaken to roll out community bakeries in rural communities dotted around the country.
“As a Ministry and Government, we are very much excited by the developments taking place with regards to the establishment of community bakeries. There are now over 3 000 bakeries where mostly women and youths are involved in the baking of bread and buns for sale and recently, we were able to distribute flour to each province in the country and there was no district that did not receive its allocation. Shortage of bread in most rural communities during the festive season will be a thing of the past,” she said.
The Women’s Bank facilitated the allocation of a tonne of flour to each community bakery throughout the country on a loan.
“Community bakeries are getting a tonne each through a loan facility by the Women’s Bank and the fact that they are receiving it in the form of a loan enables them to value their projects as a business as they will be obliged to ensure they operate profitably so as to repay,” said Dr Nyoni.
The Government launched the community bakeries project in July to protect communities from the high cost of basic commodities. The programme is also expected to avail opportunities for economic empowerment of rural women and youths who will own and operate the bakeries while creating employment for other villagers.
“As Government we noticed that the price of basic commodities, especially that of bread, was increasing from time to time and as such we had to come up with an intervention and we implored women to reopen community bakeries. Some of the bakeries had been in existence in the past but we also facilitated for the establishment of others. The increase in the price of bread has a negative impact on the people’s livelihoods.
“However, it is important to note that the increase in price has become a blessing in disguise for some as they have since found alternatives. I wish as a people we should learn to find opportunities where there are challenges instead of grumbling. The community bakeries concept has opened the ministry’s world-view, that issues of food security should be let in the hands of women failure of which we risk creating dependency syndrome tendencies and hunger in families,” said Dr Nyoni.
Bakers not guaranteeing bread during festive season
Meanwhile, bakeries are saying they will not guarantee the availability of bread during the festive season owing to a myriad of challenges facing the industry.
National Bakers Association of Zimbabwe president Mr Denis Wala said the bread and confectionery industry’s capacity utilisation had dropped significantly due to the ever-escalating costs of production and shortage of strategic inputs.
“The availability of bread depends on the availability of resources needed in its production. If these resources are available bread will also be available. The sector is currently operating at 35 to 40 percent capacity,” he said.
Bread is the second most consumed product after mealie-meal and it is one of the most sought-after food during the festive season.
Mr Wala said the price of fuel and electricity, as well as rolling power cuts that forced producers to use diesel generators, had pushed up the cost of producing bread.
“We have no strategies at the present moment as we can’t control Zesa (power cuts) and the availability of fuel at service stations,” he said.
The country has been forced to impose rolling blackouts that last up to 18 hours a day while fuel supplies are erratic due to the prevailing liquidity crunch.
Bakeries have been forced to factor the high cost of production onto their products culminating in the increase of the price of bread and other confectioneries over the past months.
The price of bread has been on an increasing mode from RTGS1,80 dollars a loaf in January to $18,50 to date.
The soaring price of bread and confectioneries have forced bakeries to scale down their production due to low demand on the market as consumers resort to other alternatives.
The shortage of power and fuel over the past two years are the latest challenges to be faced by the baking industry as it has suffered acute wheat shortages for over a decade.
Zimbabwe imports most of its annual requirement of 400 000 tonnes of wheat, but acute shortages of foreign currency have constrained imports.