The Zambian maize matrix

Sat, 14 Jan 2017 12:39:22 +0000

WHILE the Government and millers were this week engaged in tough negotiations on how to find a solution to the escalating mealie meal prices, it would appear someone is cashing in on the fluid situation and laughing all the way to the bank.

The reports from North Western Province that authorities there have intercepted a total of 11 trucks in two days laden with mealie meal heading into a neighbouring country, is evidence-based proof that while the Government’s eye is turned the other way, the crooks and risk takers are taking advantage.

Officials of the Mushindano district administration, on the border with DR Congo, seized six trucks at Kipushi border during a joint operation by council and Government officers on suspicion that the mealie meal was being taken outside the country.

Three more trucks were seized at Kilumba check point as they headed north-west into foreign territory about 40 km before the Kipushi border. Two lorries were also intercepted along the same road and were impounded and redirected to Solwezi to face the music.

We are certain that the recent seizures in North West is only the tip of an iceberg. A much larger underground operation, in some cases aided and abetted by the powers that be, must be going on around us. This is in addition to the famous Malawian ‘‘maizegate’’ involving 100,000 tonnes of what has come to be known as the white gold.

This what is causing the mealie meal pressure on the market, forcing the price to rise uncontrollably despite desperate Government efforts to stabilize the situation.

President Lungu this week met officials of the Millers Association of Zambia and other major stakeholders to try and find answers to the spiral of mealie meal prices which has hit K120 per 25 kg of breakfast meal in some border areas. And the price in still rising.

The millers yesterday attributed the high prices to grain traders who are reported to be hoarding huge stocks of maize in their private warehouses and underground storage facilities, waiting for Government to lift the ban on the export of maize and maize products.

According to the Millers Association of Zambia, the grain traders claim that they are not hoarding the maize, They are simply waiting for anyone prepared to pay the ‘‘right price’’ –  between US $264 to US $270 per tonne because they bought the maize on the open market at a high price.

This was the maize the private merchants bought from small-scale and commercial farmers as well as middlemen hoping to export it to desperate buyers among our neighbours where a tonne of maize is more precious than a tonne of cement or elephant ivory. They are prepared to wait until kingdom come for them to release the maize on the Zambian market where they know they will make a loss.

On the other hand the millers say they cannot buy sufficient stocks of maize from the Food Reserve Agency because, according to them, the agency did not buy enough maize this season and are holding on to their strategic reserves until the last minute of the season. Because of this deficit, millers cannot off load surplus maize on the market to lower the price.

In another twist, the millers claim that the shortage of FRA maize is compounded by the spectre of operating at half capacity because of the long hours of Zesco load shedding. They say this has tremendously increased their production costs to the extent that there is nothing they can do but to hike the price of mealie meal or face closure.

These are tough choices that President Lungu and his team were faced with when they met the millers. The bottom line is that the millers told the President: ‘‘Give us more cheaper maize and longer operating hours or open the border for export of mealie meal for us to offset the high costs of production and lower the price of mealie meal on the local market.’’

We do not know what the President said to the millers but this is the Catch 22 of the Zambian maize matrix.

With the unrelenting mealie meal prices hitting the roof and the rising political tempo to go with it, Zambians are bracing for an executive decision from Plot 1 – most likely this coming week.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button