GOVERNMENT says it may direct the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) to offload maize from the country’s national reserves to millers to bring down the prices of mealie meal.
And Government has accused cartels among grain traders of deliberately withholding maize in anticipation of the lifting of the ban on exports of the commodity.
Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya said the measure will be taken to prompt grain traders who are allegedly hoarding most stocks of grain to offload it to the millers and at lower prices.
Ms Siliya was speaking in Lusaka yesterday when she addressed journalists shortly after having a meeting with the Grain Traders Association of Zambia (GTAZ).
“The FRA is holding stocks of only about 290,000 tonnes but in the country we have over 700,000 tonnes except that the majority of this grain is being held by the grain traders,” she said.
Ms Siliya said there seems to be a disagreement in terms of prices between the Millers Association of Zambia and the GTAZ, which has resulted in the millers asking Government to offload maize from FRA.
And Ms Siliya says there are some cartels within GTAZ who do not want to sell their maize to the millers because they are expecting to export it when the ban is lifted.
“The message should be loud and clear that Government is not going to lift the ban on maize grain export because we are taking into consideration the food security of the country even though it is not holding most of the grain,” she said.
Ms Siliya said it is expected that the ban on grain exports would force the prices of maize to go down so that the millers could access it, which would trigger a reduction in mealie-meal prices.
She said it is not in the interest of Government to control mealie-meal prices, but that it has to ensure it is affordable to the ordinary citizens.
But GTAZ executive director Chambuleni Simwinga said the high prices of mealie meal could be attributed to low production of the commodity or smuggling.
MAZ on Wednesday said the prices of mealie meal are expected to drop following the consultative meeting it had with President Lungu in Lusaka three days ago.
President Lungu on Tuesday met MAZ representatives to find a solution for the increasing prices of mealie meal and directed the Ministry of Agriculture to hold follow-up meetings with millers.
Prices of mealie meal have in the recent months gradually risen from an average of about K70 to over K100 especially on the Copperbelt.
Meanwhile, the Zambia Consumer Association (ZACA) has commended President Lungu for his decision to intervene in the reduction of the prices of mealie meal.
ZACA information and publicity officer Juba Sakala said in a statement yesterday that the intervention will send a strong message to groups of people that are manipulating mealie-meal prices.