Dora Siliya, Zambian minister of agriculture, has accused maize traders of running a cartel to keep the price of mealie-meal high.
This, after a meeting on Thursday, at which the Ministry of Agriculture and the Grain Traders Association (GTA) failed to agree on a price reduction for the staple. Talks collapsed at the meeting with traders, which followed President Edgar Lungu’s meeting earlier in the week, with the Millers Association of Zambia (MAZ), to discuss the rising price of the staple.
Prices are now pegged at ZMW130 for yellow and ZMW140 for white 25kg.
The Grain Traders Association (GTA) rejected the accusations saying that smuggling had increased since the government had put the export ban in place in 2016. “The high price of mealie-meal is a result of low production and smuggling of the commodity,” said Chambuleni Simwinga, GTA’s executive director.
STRUGGLE FOR THE POOR
Members of the public have criticised maize traders for allegedly ‘hoarding’ maize and ‘causing misery to millions of the country’s poor’. “There is no justifiable reason for mealie-meal prices to keep going up when we had a bumper harvest last year,” said Lusaka resident, Ronald Banda.
Banda’s views were echoed by scores of consumers interviewed in Lusaka and the nearby districts of Chilanga and Kafue. “We are finding it extremely difficult to buy mealie-meal,” said Lina Banda of Chilanga.
Winter Mwale, of Kafue said: “The higher the prices, the more tensions we will have in the nation.”
‘The higher the prices, the more tensions we will have in the nation.’
Zambia currently has more than 700,000t of grain in reserve; 290,000t is held by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) with the remainder in the hands of private grain traders.
“We have heard there are cartels who don’t want to sell maize locally because they can get higher prices for export maize. The message to them must be loud and clear – government will not lift the ban on maize exports,” said Siliya.
The minister assured the people that the maize export ban would stay in place. This measure had the potential to effectively strong-arm traders into selling grain locally, at a lower price, she said. Millers benefiting from the knock-on could then reduce the price of mealie-meal.
The government was reported to be giving some consideration to channeling reserves to millers through the FRA to reduce the cost of mealie-meal.