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World at large, the magnitude of the catastrophe unleashed by novel COVID-19 pandemic as we know it is unprecedented. Thousands of lives lost and an ensuing global economic decline fueled by the all necessary crucial lockdowns, isolation and social distancing measures in limiting the reach of the virus.
In Ghana particularly the lockdown announcements lead to an outrageous hike in prices, a phenomenon as is known in economics when demand shoots up and supply doesn’t meet the sudden upshot invariably prices shoot up. This is exactly what we saw happen in the markets, the sudden demand occasioned primarily by the outbreak of the virus and subsequently, the lockdown orchestrated a scenario where supply was nowhere near the demand.
Following social media and even conversations with friends I see and hear copious chastisement and berating targeted towards the market women/men and perhaps rightfully so. Maybe they were incentivized by greed, very unconscionable right. I get it but hold on, there is more to it if you look deeper. What broke the camel’s back for me was a post essentially glorifying and calling for horror meted out to market women during the revolution days when not very long ago courtesy of Joy news those of us who were not born have literally seen scars of the revolution.
Here’s a different way to look at it, another not so glaring side to the whole development. These very tough uncertain times as we see across the world precipitates full-on idiosyncrasies of people. People double, triple, quadruple their shopping as much as their finances would let them.
Let’s engage in a thought experiment, the average Ghanaian who normally shops for a weeklong groceries now may want to shop for two weeks, the other who shops usually for two weeks would want to shop for a month and so on…. The informal nature of our markets enables the so-called market women/men to arbitrary increase prices, by doing that she/he is most probably thinking to cash in but she/he is also inextricably limiting the purchasing power of the shopper and invariably helping to distribute the very limited resources to as many consumers as possible.
The average person who normally buys for a week and now wants to buy for two weeks cannot do so because their finances most probably have not increased and so the money for two weeks can now only buy for a week or maybe five days. If the price of 1kg of gari goes for 6cedis and now costs 20cedis, the average person who normally buys say 2kg for 12cedis can only buy about 1.2kg leaving the extra 2.8kg for another buyer. If the status quo remains the buyer in this instance would buy up to 4kg. The buyer is forced to manage with 1.2kg at least until supply eventually catches up.
Again it’s important to underscore the fact that the sudden demand compromises supply, the trader didn’t anticipate this and so he or she most probably is expecting the next supply in a week or two. Compounding this problem of a gap in supply is the unforeseen delays that will arise due to extra safety and hygiene measures that have to be adhered to. This phenomenon gives the supply chain room to breathe so that in the meantime at the least more people something to survive on albeit outrageously priced.
A friend told me how he couldn’t find any hand sanitizer in the city of Helsinki where he lives. The markets in Helsinki are much formalized and so the arbitrary increment of prices may not apply. He eventually after a couple of days got some but imagine while waiting, this friend contracts the virus and God forbid dies. Of course there are other ways to keep ones hands clean but when it comes to groceries I don’t think there are other alternatives. If prices are increased buyers wouldn’t most probably buy more than they need and just maybe we could avert some unfortunate aftermaths.
I am very cognizant of the very vulnerable in society, those below the average who this circumstance will gravely overwhelm, it therefore incumbent on the government, be it local or central to support their incomes and supplies in these trying times. The well to do, those above the average should augment government support as I have already seen some do.
Look, you have the right to be enraged nonetheless take a moment to think and reflect on what you just read and while you’re at it bear in mind that some of the poorest people in our society are arguably most of the so-called market women and men.
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