Where is sugar ‘hiding’? Can’t it sabotage, really?

01Jun 2020
The Guardian
Where is sugar ‘hiding’? Can’t it sabotage, really?

AFTER the government issued strong assurances that the sugar scarcity plaguing the country for well over two months now was ending, two weeks and counting have gone by without people being assured of obtaining the all-important in shops even in Dar es Salaam.

Top authorities talked of about 4,000 tonnes being already in port and another 21,000 tonnes being awaited, and thus the market would be entirely covered, even saturated, with the item. But it appears that the bottlenecks trade authorities were citing are still intact.

The first limitation mentioned by Agriculture minister Japheth Hasunga was that large ocean-going vessels expected to offload the sugar at the Dar es Salaam Port had become fewer, chiefly owing to Covid-related travel restrictions and lockdowns in many places.

It was reported that the vessels’ crews started offloading the sugar into small vessels in the high seas, the latter themselves doing the bidding of big traders hiring such boats, as there was much less competition to land large volumes on the port.

As importers would know that no one else would have received such a consignment, they almost automatically becomes price givers – as wholesalers become price takers and retailers literally follow suit, scarcity aiding.

Casual observation indicates that the price of sugar has diminished somewhat since it was announced that there was plenty of it either in port or was expected to arrive at the port “any time now”.

For instance, in Dar es Salaam the price “fell” from 4,000/- per kilo if one could find it in some street corner shop with fewer customers, to around 3,200/- as optimal price for retailers. Of course, the “official” price was 2,600/-.

The whole idea of returning to normal in sugar supply and pricing is still a pipedream to city dwellers, and it’s crystal clear that supervising authorities can’t do any better.

For one thing, the shipping environment is not yet on the right gear, as it is unlikely that major suppliers like Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia would already have finished with Covid-19-induced lockdowns and allowed their shippers and exporters to resume the job.

So the underlying conditions minister Hasunga and his Industry and Trade counterpart, Bashungwa, aired at a joint press conference are still basically on the ground, as little progress has been achieved in rolling back lockdowns at the global level.

It can also be said that when there is not much chance of another shipment coming in with similar tonnage as the 21,000 tonnes that was being awaited in port a fortnight ago, even such amount, when it is distributed among say 100 wholesalers at different points in the country, wouldn’t make much of a difference.

What pushes retailers to relay sugar to customers is that the latter would get it in the next shop or supermarket at agreeable prices. If there is no assurance or guarantee of this, price dictation follows.

The competition mechanism for sugar or any other products is in limbo as the Covid-19 lockdown takes its course, and its impact on supply chains around the world is quite evident.

Reinforcing controls through security checks to obtain regular supplies of sugar is a daunting task as the more traders are caught or fined, the less they will touch the sugar that comes in small consignments to some big traders.

This at times tends to worsen chances of finding the product in any shop, which is more unpopular than hiked prices, and hence the seeming tolerance of the situation by some authorities. They check around, sniff out stocked sugar, not much else.

Even then, the public has every reason in the world to wonder aloud: WHERE IS THE SUGAR ‘HIDING’?

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