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FILE: Africa Milling Company workers packing mealie-meal bags at a warehouse in Lusaka on Wednesday. PICTURE: CHONGO SAMPA

Millers, help lower mealie meal prices

ZAMBIA is renowned for being a food basket in southern Africa because of its reputation in production of the maize staple food crop.
Although farmers in Zambia also grow other food crops such as millet, cassava, and sorghum, maize is predominantly the crop grown in all regions of the country.
Nearly every agricultural season, the country produces enough maize for consumption by its inhabitants, keeps some in strategic reserves, and exports the surplus to neighbouring countries like Democratic Republic of Congo.
In times of intermittent rainfall, which leads to poor maize yields, exports are usually restricted to ensure food sufficiency and stable prices of mealie meal on the local market.
When prices of mealie meal skyrocket due to insufficient maize on the local market, Government, through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), offloads maize from strategic reserves and sells to millers at reduced prices.
The rationale behind this initiative is to enable millers to produce mealie meal at a lower cost and flood the commodity on the market so that consumers access the staple food affordably.
Whenever FRA sells maize to millers at reduced prices, the latter have a moral obligation to pass on the benefit to consumers in terms of the price of mealie meal.
However, this move is sometimes characterised by ‘politics of maize’ where some unscrupulous millers buy maize from FRA, but because they want to maximise profits, they hold on to the cheap maize.
This results in escalated prices of mealie meal on the market, the situation which is currently prevailing in the country.
Yesterday, Minister of Agriculture Reuben Mtolo threw a salvo at some millers who have calculatingly created an artificial shortage of maize for them to exorbitantly sell mealie meal to retailers.
Such millers have been claiming that the high prices of mealie meal on the market are due to a shortage of maize when FRA has been allowed to sell to them 250,000 metric tons (mt) of the commodity.
In fact, it seems some millers purposefully do not want to buy cheap maize from FRA because out of the 250,000mt the agency has been allowed to sell, millers have only bought 75,000mt.
Clearly, there is some political business interest at play because it seems some millers do not want to reciprocate the goodwill extended by Government by buying cheap maize from FRA and pass on the lower cost to consumers of mealie meal.
No wonder the minister is failing to understand why some millers are claiming that there is a shortage of maize in the country when they have not bought the readily available stocks from FRA.
“FRA has been allowed to sell 250,000 metric tonnes of maize to millers because on their own they cannot offload such huge quantities of maize.
“The agency has offloaded 75,000 metric tonnes of maize to millers. This shows that we still have sufficient maize from that 250,000 metric tonnes which has been allowed to be offloaded to millers,” Mr Mtolo told journalists.
Surely, our millers need to be patriotic and put the greater interest of mealie meal consumers first by cooperating with Government to stabilise prices of the commodity.
We urge millers to consider the plight of consumers by quickly buying maize from FRA and flooding the market with mealie meal at affordable prices.
There is no need to take advantage of the high prices of mealie meal in the country to gain political mileage.
Millers should cooperate with Government as it makes efforts to lower and stabilise prices of mealie meal because this is of greater interest to consumers than making profit at the moment.