- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — For the first time in at least 40 years, supplies of Coca-Cola dried up yesterday in yet another sign of crippling economic crisis in Zimbabwe, where people endure acute bread shortages and farmers warn that the worst is yet to come.

Harare agents for Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. said local production of the drink stopped earlier this month but declined to say why.

Bar and cafe owners said they had been promised resumed deliveries at the end of the month but were told hard currency shortages had prevented licensed bottlers from importing the secret concentrated syrup used to mix the popular soft drink.

One sports club in Harare yesterday sold imported canned Coke made under license in Malaysia for $1, double the price of the locally bottled version.

It was the first Coke drought across the country for at least four decades, shop owners said. Throughout the seven-year guerrilla war that ended white rule and led to independence in 1980, Coca-Cola was available in rural stores in the heart of war zones.

Traditionally, it has been the country’s best-selling soft drink, and its absence underscored the nation’s worst economic crisis since independence.

Farmers’ groups yesterday predicted a further decline in wheat production, blaming acute shortages of fertilizers, gasoline and electric power to run aging irrigation equipment.

The three main farming organizations said in a joint statement that their members estimated planting about 108,000 acres of irrigated winter wheat this year, down from 156,000 acres last year and less than half the area needed to meet the nation’s demand for bread and other wheat-based foods.

Shortages of bread, a second staple after corn, which is also in short supply, power outages and scarcities of gasoline, fertilizer and other essential imports have become routine in the troubled southern African nation.

Before the often violent seizures of 5,000 white-owned commercial farms began in 2000, Zimbabwe was self-sufficient in wheat and an exporter of surplus corn.

Poor harvests last year yielded about half the nation’s consumption of wheat and corn. The shortfall was supplemented by imports and food aid.

In January this year, at least 3 million Zimbabweans were receiving emergency food donations.

The collapse of the agriculture-based economy since 2000 spurred record inflation to 780 percent last month, the highest rate in the world.

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