The Millers Association of Zambia (MAZ) says mealie meal prices are likely to be adjusted upwards due to an increased number of briefcase buyers in the country who have already started buying maize this year.

MAZ president Andrew Chintala told News Diggers! in an interview that millers were concerned with the increased number of briefcase buyers in the country who had started buying maize ahead of the 2017/2018 crop marketing season.

He warned that the move was likely to influence an upward adjustment of mealie meal prices should prices of maize be found to be high on account of an increased presence of briefcase buyers.

“…And now, the current price [of maize] obtaining on the market translates into about K75 [per 50Kg bag], that’s what they are buying on the open market. But that is maize which is last season’s crop, not the current crop. So, we are aware that there are briefcase buyers, not traders, who have gone out there to buy the maize at cheap prices, even at K1 per Kg, and those are the same guys who are coming to offload maize at the current price where we are buying maize. Now, looking at how much profit margins they are making, they barely making a killing. So, we are concerned as consumers to say at what price we are going to buy mealie-meal. We are equally mindful and that’s why we are appealing to our farmers to hold on a little bit. We, the millers, are providing the offtake market, which is readily available,” Chintala said, Monday.

He added that farmers should wait for the moisture content to drop significantly before selling their produce, usually to around the acceptable threshold of 12.5 per cent.

“What really I think is important is that, first of all, we would like to make an earnest appeal to the farmers countrywide that they need to exercise a little bit of patience in terms of them releasing the maize on the market. We are aware that there could be some other pressing issues that could compel some farmers to release their maize now, which has higher moisture content of which, obviously, millers will not be able to purchase right away because obviously of the process that is involved. So, we are optimistic that moisture levels because we are quite mindful, and we are monitoring what is happening in terms of the moisture level across the country because we are following and queuing to be the first to enter the market,” Chintala added.

“Actually, we are aware that there are traders that have gone out there so our appeal to the farmers is that let at least hold on to their grain maybe for the next two weeks or so before they can start releasing it. Because one kwacha a bag is translating into fifty kwacha per fifty kilogrammes of maize.”

He said millers would soon start purchasing maize within the next two weeks when the moisture content would have dropped to appropriate contents.

“So, the only concern we have is that before we start accessing the maize, we need to wait for the moisture content to drop to the acceptable content because the higher the moisture content you have, the more difficult it is to mill. So, hence the millers are not there on the market, but then in the next two weeks or so I think our presence will be felt and we will be seen on the market actively. So, for now I think all I can say is let the farmers be wary that there are briefcase buyers that are everywhere and will pay you close to nothing. But our appeal is that we are here and we will provide offtake market that is required for their products,” said Chintala.

“We are monitoring it ourselves and we are quite optimistic because the FRA hasn’t entered the market, usually farmers would wait for the FRA to enter the market to announce the price at which they will be buying the product at. So, we know that a few farmers may have started offloading but the majority of the will have to wait for the FRA to say at what price they will be buying. There is no floor price in Zambia. What FRA will announce is their own price. We need to allow the market forces to be able to guide and determine at what price we are going to buy maize. So, now, I can’t speculate at what price we will be buying the finished product, but we are concerned with the briefcase buyers offering those amounts of money to farmers. There is still maize on the market, but we haven’t yet started accessing the 2017/2018 maize. Very soon, within the next two weeks, we should be on the market buying the product.”

Retail prices of mealie-meal in Lusaka have jumped by an average K10.00 in some outlets, registering an eight-month record high of K80 per 25Kg breakfast bag.

The national average prices of the staple commodity has also continued rising to a nine-month high, with a 25Kg breakfast bag now costing an average K79.56, according to Central Statistical Office (CSO) data.