By REBECCA MUSHOTA
TWO things are almost always certain when one enters a grocery store in Zambia since the Corona virus (COVID-19) dug its nails in the world.
Either the price of your favourite commodity, it could be a type of sanitary towels or washing powder or even a fruit has been increased or it is not just available. This is frustrating and disrupting lives and livelihoods.
Zambia as a landlocked country that hugely depends on imports is facing unprecedented difficulties, that fortunately, could be addressed if the nation moved towards manufacturing more essential commodities. The shortage of various commodities ranging from yoghurt to sanitary pads in shops as a result of the logistics challenges emanating from COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on Zambian consumers and the signs so far show that the problem will continue for some time.
A check in various supermarkets like Shoprite and Pick n Pay in the past month has indicated that various commodities, both imported and local, are missing from time to time.
Tamara Mvula of Rhodespark said it was amazing how most of the commodities she depended on were imported from South Africa.
“It has never bothered me until three weeks ago when I went looking for Always extra long and thick pads and there are no where to be found. Then it hit me, we have to do some of these things by ourselves and not depend on other countries.“Our manufacturers need to get busy and need to get busy fast,” Ms Mvula said. The Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS) has said that most consumers were concerned about the shortages while the supermarkets indicate that delays would continue.
CUTS programme coordinator Ishmael Zulu said in response to a Press query that the shortages was directly affecting livelihoods.
Mr Zulu said Zambia was a country that heavily depended on imports especially from South Africa and that due to the health guidelines, imports of essential commodities was delaying.
He said supermarkets have indicated that delays would continue for some time. On the positive side, Mr Zulu said, the Zambian and South African governments have put in place measures to ensure quick transit of food
“It won’t escalate but there will still be delays,” he said. Mr Zulu said the shortages in supermarkets was an opportunity for manufacturers to respond to the high demand by increasing production.
He said stakeholders should ensure that measures were put in place to improve the flow of capital for the local manufacturers to invest in production.
Former Minister of Finance Edith Nawakwi said the COVID-19 was an opportunity that both Zambian manufacturers and consumers needed to exploit.
Ms Nawakwi said producers had an unprecedented yawning market. She said Government and the Bank of Zambia should throw their weight behind local producers by ensuring that the K10 billion stimulus package translated in direct funding of enterprises and not as a relief package for banks. With the challenge thrown at them, the local manufacturers say the ‘soul’ was willing to respond accordingly and immediately but the sector was impended by among others, logistical delays caused by COVID-19.
The Zambia Association of Manufacturers (ZAM) said that while logistical challenges presented local manufacturers with opportunities to fill in the gap of no-show imports, the sector was impeded by the delayed import of raw materials.
ZAM chief executive officer Florence Muleya said local manufacturers were preparing to provide necessities in stores in the very best way they could, however, shortages of local goods on the market were as a result of challenges to import inputs from other countries such as South Africa and China.
“Without the supply of both inputs and finished goods which are as a result of restrictions on the movement of products due to lockdowns,most companies are looking for means to continue production, hence have started looking for other sources of inputs especially from the local and regional markets,” Ms Muleya said in response to a Press query.
She said the new measures by the manufacturers were yet to yield results because apart from delayed raw materials, some available products were yet to penetrate the chain stores market.
Ms Muleya said ZAM has engaged strategic partners such as Shorprite on how to promote local products in their markets.
She said the ultimate solution to improving local supply of commodities was capacity building of local manufacturers to meet the necessary demand on the local market.“The task of recovery cannot be left to the private sector or Government alone but every Zambian has a role to play by supporting the locally available products, this will then lead to improve production and innovation to compete with more superior brands we may have been used to,” Ms Muleya said.
It seems there is good news and there is bad news. The bad news is COVID-19 could affect Zambia for a long time.
The good news is living will go ahead. A trade analyst Gilbert Nkamba sums it up in his statement that while
adhering to the new normal, the country should explore new innovative and adaptive ways of keeping business and trade alive, drawing lessons from countries that have created economic activities and the nation should create economic activities during the pandemic.
He said the manufacturing sector should invest in adding value to raw materials.