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Retailers cash in on search for COVID-19 home remedies

PAULINE DIKUELO MBONGENI MGUNI PHATSIMO KAPENG
Going up: Prices of Ginger and garlic are on the rise PICS: PHATSIMO KAPENG
The prices of ginger and garlic have escalated so rapidly in local supermarkets that the Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA) has launched a probe to ensure there are no violations of laws that protect consumers.

Under the State of Public Emergency, food price increases in supermarkets are regulated and only allowed when related to costs and not to inflate margins.

The CCA also has legislation prohibiting cartel and collusive behaviour as well as ‘price gouging’, the latter referring to sellers unfairly hiking the costs of goods in response to high demand.

Mmegi surveys around Gaborone this week indicate that the prices of ginger and garlic have doubled in recent weeks, due to their use as the coronavirus (COVID-19) home remedies. More Batswana are using the two herbs either boiled into drinks or inhaled as steam (go aramela) as a way of keeping their respiratory systems healthy and clear. Recipes using the two herbs are being widely shared on social media, particularly WhatsApp, as local cases of COVID-19 pass about 300 a day, with deaths escalating.

A Mmegi news-crew that surveyed retailers in Gaborone this week found prices of ginger ranging between P245.95 to P299.95 per kilogramme up from P150/kg months ago. Garlic is being sold at about P203.95 per kilogramme from P99.95/kg.

The increase in ginger and garlic prices is made more remarkable by the fact that vegetable prices have been either declining or flat in the last 12 months according to Statistics Botswana data. By December 31, 2020, Statistics Botswana estimates that vegetable prices were about 0.2% higher on a 12-month basis, but 3.5 percent lower on a three-month basis. This particular trend indicates that vegetable prices were decreasing quicker in the three months leading to December 2020, than in the overall 12-month period.

Ginger and garlic prices have alarmed the CCA, which says it is establishing the cause of the increase. The authority’s Communications and Stakeholder Relations director, Gideon Nkala told Mmegi the CCA will get in touch with regulators in other markets, particularly in South Africa, where an inquiry into ballooning ginger and garlic prices, has been initiated.

“We are aware of these price increases and we are looking into this matter,” he said. “Our interest is to establish the cause of the increase. “Is it as a response to cost structures that businesses face from suppliers or the hikes are as a result of collusive behaviour or cartel conduct between the businesses.” Nkala said the price hikes are not due to anti-competitive issues within the country, as Botswana is just a consumer of these products, while the farmers and distributors are outside the country.   Commenting on the issue, Consumer Watchdog founder, Richard Harriman said while ginger and garlic prices were rising, he did not believe local retailers were unfairly exploiting the market.   “I suspect they’re just passing on their increased input costs to you and me.  “There’s

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an investigation into the price increases in South Africa, but I haven’t seen any findings yet.  “I think we need to wait this out. “If we can reduce our demand hopefully the prices will stabilise,” he said. Meanwhile, consumers have taken to social media to vent their anger and frustration at the increases.  Kgololo Shianyana said the prices have affected her so much as she often buys ginger and garlic for health reasons, especially for the benefits of the herbs against flu-related illnesses.“I was very shocked after realising that the prices have gone up,” she said.“I think more people are still going to suffer from flu and other health issues because they will stop buying ginger and garlic or most of them will not afford to buy them as usual. “Only those who have enough money will continue buying.  “We don’t know the cause of the price increase yet, but as for me I think they have increased them looking at the fact that both ginger and garlic are in high demand now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Another consumer, One Gabanthate who learnt about the price hikes at the beginning of this month said the situation was unfair to consumers.  “Most people now need ginger and garlic more than ever because they believe it helps them a lot in keeping their bodies safe from being attacked by the deadly virus.  “I normally buy a good amount of garlic then mix it with water and drink. It really helps in keeping the body healthy, but I don’t think after this massive increase in price I will continue buying as I used to do. “Most of the youth are not working but those are the people who mostly buy ginger and garlic, especially girls. “So this means their health will now be at risk.”  Thobo Gobonetse says the price hike came at the wrong time as COVID-19 has affected the economy and many people have lost their jobs while small businesses are fighting for survival.

“I am not shocked about the increase in ginger and garlic prices because thes e big stores tend to take advantage of what people need in their time of need. “They increase the prices without even considering the financial status of the people.”

She continued: “These prices are going to kill us small business owners who usually buy ginger and garlic in bulk because most of us hardly make money.  “We are going to reduce or stop buying them not because we do not want them, but because of the prices which have doubled.”

Managers in the retailers surveyed by Mmegi declined to comment on the record.



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