Frozen chicken, deemed more convenient and cheaper than fresh poultry that must be killed and plucked, is extremely popular in Kinshasa where locals have become dependent on it.
So much so that it is at the heart of a battle between the Congolese government, which has promised to lower the prices of basic products including frozen foods, and importers and wholesalers, who refuse to play ball.
The result? Prices have actually risen as dark and corrupt industry players continue with their questionable business practices.
At a frozen food stall in the capital’s vast Gambela market, Sandra had to give up her usual 10 kg (22 lb) box of frozen chicken.
It was “before 42,000 Congolese francs ($ 21), now it’s 56,000 ($ 28),” said the mother of three, who refused to give her last name.
It’s too expensive for her, so she buys frozen sausage and fries instead.
– Lack of local products –
Kinshasa has relied on imported frozen foods for years – there simply aren’t enough local products to support this bustling city of 12 million people.
The larger-scale agribusiness, meanwhile, never took off, plagued by corruption.
In June, faced with a population struggling to make ends meet in a faltering economy made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, the government announced that it would cut prices for frozen products as well as domestic air fares.
He ordered importers to halve the price of 10kg cans of frozen chicken.
Frozen shad and pork chops were also targeted, but with a smaller price drop.
Authorities say importers over-charge for these goods, deliberately underestimating their value to pay lower customs taxes, and then selling them to wholesalers at actual or inflated value.
The wholesalers themselves then pile up the goods or slow their sales to local stores, reducing the supply of frozen products to the market and causing prices to rise, authorities say.
At Gambela market, when asked why she buys frozen products imported from countries as far away as Brazil, Belgium, Argentina, the United States and China, sometimes stored in questionable conditions, Sandra replies that it’s just more convenient than buying live chicken.
And generally, it’s cheaper.
– Government intervention –
“Lowering the price of frozen foods is a good decision,” said Hugues, manager of the “La Résurrection” frozen food store.
But he says in practice that just doesn’t happen.
“The importers are Lebanese, Indian … they control the market,” he says. “The wholesalers don’t want to lower the prices (and) neither can we.”
Refusing to take responsibility for the blockage, the frozen food stores went on strike for two days earlier this month.
But the system is corrupt and lacks transparency, making change difficult.
“Everyone knows what’s going on,” says one importer, asking to remain anonymous.
The market, he adds, is huge – it’s worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a day.
After weeks of blocking, the government said it would take matters into its own hands and “flood” the frozen food market.
The Economy Ministry said it plans to buy the products directly from exporters and distribute them to stores, completely eliminating importers and wholesalers.
“So that products are not out of stock and consumers are not penalized,” he said.
But Michel Bisa Kibul, professor of politics and governance, said the government’s approach was totally wrong.
They should be “concerned with getting good local products” and supporting the agro-industry in DR Congo instead of wanting to flood the market “with cheap frozen products,” he said.
As he noted, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has 800,000 square kilometers (300,000 square miles) of arable land and countless rivers full of fish.
to / sba / mbx / gd