Namibia’s largest grain processor warns of staple food price hikes amid coronavirus outbreak

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Namibians could face price increases in staple foods, thanks to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Pic: GettyImages/borgogniels
Namibians could face price increases in staple foods, thanks to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Pic: GettyImages/borgogniels

Related tags Namibia Namib Mills Group coronavirus Bokomo

Namib Mills Groups – one of Namibia’s biggest food producers – is concerned about the effect that coronavirus is having on the purchasing power of the Namibian dollar, just days after it inaugurated its N$135m ($7.8m) state-of-the-art bread factory.

The company noted the Namibia dollar has plunged by 20% over the past two weeks – pegged at N$17.47 against the US dollar at the time of writing – thanks to the continuing COVID-19 crisis.

It added the weaker currency could lead to raw material price increases.

‘Tables may not run out of food, thus we strive to keep shelves well-stocked. Also, we do not condone increasing margins during these times, as such opportunistic practices are not in the spirit of solidarity nor safety of people,’ the group said in a statement.

‘We do, however warn that should input costs increase, prices will increase in the same way as we have been practising responsibly in the past.’

Namib Mills is one of the biggest manufacturers in the country, producing a range of wheat and maize (corn) meal products, which are a staple food for many of the country’s citizens.

Growth at home

Earlier this month, Namibia’s Minister of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development, Tjekero Tweya inaugurated the company’s N$135m bread facility.

The factory – located just outside of the country’s capital city, Windhoek – has a system that runs like a conveyor belt through the entire baking process until the end packaging, creating 120 new jobs along the entire product line.

In his keynote address, Tweya encouraged Namibia’s ‘growth at home strategy’, which decreases the country’s reliance on imports.

In his speech, Namib Mills Investment Group’s CEO Ian Collard urged the government to maintain a conducive environment for the private sector.

“Such investments are essential for job creation, income growth for the country and import substitution. We as private sector and to a certain extent also foreign investors are concerned about future legislation and policies that will not be supporting local investment and growth,”​ said Collard.

“We as a company have also always been standing for good honest business, and we plead with the government and fellow citizens to practice these principles in everyday life and business.”

The company assured consumers it is doing everything it can to keep supermarket shelves ‘well-stocked’ with its products.

Apples and oranges?

In other news, Namib Mills recently lost a legal battle against its main competitor, Bokomo Namibia, over the packaging the latter uses for its vetkoek (a type of fried dumpling) flour and other flour products.

A Windhoek High Court judge ruled Namib Mills had failed to prove that a substantial number of consumers were likely to be deceived or confused between the two company’s competing product offerings.

Namib Mills launched its Bakpro vetkoek flour in January 2018, packed in mustard yellow-coloured bags. Bokomo Namibia launched its own vetkoek flour later the same year, following suit with the packaging colour.

In his judgement, Judge Hosea Angula ruled no one can claim to own a particular colour.

“Colours are there to be freely used by everybody,”​ he stated, noting there were significant differences between the Bokomo and Bakpro logos.

Judge Angula dismissed the application that Namib Mills had lodged against Bokomo Namibia in November 2018 and ordered that Namib Mills should pay Bokomo’s legal costs.

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