MBABANE, 7 December 2007 (IRIN) - The escalating price of bread is the latest blow to Swazi households, already struggling with a parallel rise in the cost of maizemeal caused by the worst drought in a generation.
On 10 December the price of a loaf of bread will jump by 10 US cents, and by the end of the year a loaf may cost US$1 in a country where over 60 percent of people live on less than US$1 a day, according to the UN Development Programme.
"Bread used to be called the white or rich person's maize, and maize was the Swazi's or poor person's bread, but now both are beyond reach almost, and it is making more people dependant on food aid," said Samuel Simelane, a food aid distribution officer at the village of Mliba, 100km east of the capital, Mbabane.
Simelane oversees the distribution of maizemeal, cooking oil and beans to double the number of community members who required such assistance last year: over 400,000 people out of a population of 970,000 now need some form of food aid to survive.
The World Food Programme brings in maize purchased in South Africa or donated by the US. The development agency, World Vision, is the primary distribution partner on the ground, while the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) coordinates feeding schemes for primary school pupils, orphans and vulnerable children at neighbourhood carepoints.
Crippling drought is responsible for a decline of up to 80 percent in maize harvests in some parts of the country, although all four regions of Swaziland experienced drought-related crop reductions for the first time.
But the radically escalating price of bread is not related to Swazi weather; no wheat is grown in the country. Rather, the issue is the government's desire for tax revenue. Through its price-fixing arm, the National Agricultural Marketing Board (NAMBoard), an 8.5 percent levy is fixed on all wheat imported into the country.
Bakers are squaring off with government in an effort to further boost bread prices, already raised twice since August. The Bakery Association noted that the price of wheat had been rising by 15 percent to 25 percent per month since July.
Transport costs also add to the mounting bread price, averaging R200 (about $30) per tonne of wheat imported from South Africa. Bakeries say they can no longer absorb the high cost of flour without passing on the increases to consumers. If forced to shut down, they warned that 2,000 jobs could be lost in a country where formal-sector unemployment is above 40 percent.
NAMBoard was set up to find markets for Swazi agricultural output, but critics say it does little more than supply some local produce markets and impose protectionist tariffs on imported agricultural products.