Mealie meal shortages being experienced in some parts of the country should prompt government to revise the recent lifting of the export ban of the commodity, says agro expert Simon Mwamba.

And the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) says the lifting of the mealie meal export ban may negatively impact on the poorest who solely rely on maize meal.

Zambia has experienced intermittent shortages of mealie meal, particularly in drought-hit areas of the country in recent days, where prices of the commodity have sharply risen to over K100 per 25Kg breakfast bag.

In areas such as Kalomo District, Southern Province, prices of the commodity have been exacerbated due to inconsistent supply to the local market.

This development also follows a major policy pronouncement by Agriculture Minister of the lifting of the ban on mealie meal exports earlier this month.

In an interview, Mwamba, formerly the Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmer’s Forum (ESAFF) country co-ordinator, noted that price escalations of the commodity partly pointed to the export ban lifting, and argued for the need to revise the policy to assess the availability of stocks in the country.

“I think we have a challenge on where most of the time, government makes decisions based on who is advocating for what. I know very well that this lifting of the ban has been the cry of the millers and the grain traders. But I believe that a critical look should also have a clear focus on what we want to do because, ultimately, what we should have done was to look at a quota arrangement where certain quantities should have been declared to be open for exports, unlike just saying the ban has been opened, (lifted),” Mwamba told News Diggers! in an interview.

“It makes business sense for those in business. But, ultimately, looking at the situation we are in: whilst we have Southern Province, Central, Western Province, Lusaka and parts of Eastern Province, where we definitely are having a shortfall; the question we are having is that, are we food secure to go into that (lifting of export ban)? Because we need to look at the stocks that have and see where we are going,” he noted.

He explained that interruptions in mealie meal supply would inevitably impact the retail price.

“So, I believe there’s need to undertake a critical assessment of the stocks that we have and how that may impact (on food security) because even with the stocks that we have, definitely, when we start receiving reports of certain places running out (of mealie meal), that becomes an opportunity for some to increase the retail prices. This in the end will hurt the consumers and that is my worry. It would have been better to (lift) that ban by assuring we have a quota. For me, it does need revision looking at what the situation is in the country to assess the stocks that we have,” said Mwamba.

“I believe that a quota in terms of the quantities that we need to export should be put in place. Otherwise, everyone will happy to make dollars and sell! And with what has happened in Zimbabwe and Malawi with the floods (from Cyclone Idai), there will definitely be a demand in the region, but we need to be careful that we don’t starve ourselves.”

And JCTR stated that the lifting of the export ban on mealie meal may negatively impact on the poorest who solely rely on maize meal.

“This ban may impact negatively on the poorest of the poor who solely rely on maize meal. The current unpredictable weather patterns could have an effect on the production of maize, which might affect the price of mealie meal. Lifting of the ban during a dry spell period may threaten food security and possibly cause an upward rise of the cost of mealie-meal locally,” stated JCTR in a press statement.

“With the already high cost of living in Zambia, lifting of the ban could further increase the cost of living if not well managed as most households would now have to pay more for mealie meal due to increase in prices. With the lifting of the ban, producers would most likely prefer the export (foreign) market, where they would earn more, to the local one. This would significantly reduce the availability of the commodity locally thereby causing an increase in the price locally.”

The national average prices of the staple commodity have been stable, but have steadily increased to a one-year high, with a 25Kg breakfast bag now costing an average K93.36 per 25Kg breakfast bag by last month from K69.72 for the same quantity one year prior, according to Central Statistical Office (CSO) data.