Zambian millers have rejected claims by government that lack of milling capacity is responsible for the current national wide mealie meal shortages the country is experiencing.
The millers said that government directives to sell mealie meal at K50, while the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) was selling maize at K60 was responsible for the current maize meal crisis the nation was experiencing.
Refuting claims made by Agriculture Minister Bob Sichinga in his Ministerial Statement in parliament last week that millers did not have the capacity to feed the nation, Millers Association of Zambia (MAZ) president Alan Sakala said that Zambia had continued experiencing the increased mealie meal prices because of pricing as directed by the president.
“The shortages are related to pricing. We had a directive that we should sell at K50 when we buy maize from FRA at K60. That doesn’t make sense at all. We are buying at K60 and the costs we take in running this business are so big that we are running at a loss,” said Mr. Sakala.
He said that it was shocking and strange to hear from government leaders (Bob Sichinga) issuing statements that the millers in the country did not have the capacity to grind and supply mealie meal throughout the country.
Mr. Sakala, “we have the capacity to feed the country throughout the year. Actually we have excess capacity. And if you look at the places affected are outlining areas. All areas that are along the line of rail have mealie meal. What companies have done is to concentrate supplying mealie meal in areas where the production is taking place because of transportation and other costs. Running a business with such directives as given by government to reduce prices when maize was still high it is unprofitable as companies will run at a loss,” he said.
He said most businessmen running milling companies with the current trend were losing out, hence the decision not to transport mealie meal to far flung and other outlying areas.
Mr. Sakala said that he did not know where some government officials got information which was misleading to the nation.
“We have all along been feeding the nation, where has the capacity gone today? We are running business at a loss. We are losing. We cannot transport mealie meal, it is impossible and not feasible. I don’t know where he gets (Bob Sichinga) figures from. The total capacity is there, that I can rest assure you, we have done it and we can do it. The problem we have is the conditions attached,” he said.
And the Grain Traders Association (GTA) president George Liacopoulos has urged government and the Millers Association of Zambia (MAZ) to sit down and find a way forward over the continued shortage of mealie meal in outlining areas.
Mr. Liacopoulos said holding a consultative meeting with all players in the industry would reduce the current perception that the country was facing shortages of staple food.
He said the current FRA data base about the grain availability showed that the nation had about 700 000 metric tones to reach the country to the next harvest season.
Mr. Liacopoulos said that government should also listen to the concern the millers were raising with respect to subsidy in order to meet each other’s demands.
“In the earlier directives the PF government did not address the issues of transportation of the commodity apart from directing millers to reduce the price. They have done that but they have cut off the transportation of mealie meal to far flung areas due to cost of transportation. As a result we have seen how affected these areas have become and its consequences. So it is therefore ideal to consult and dialogue before such moves is made,” he said.