Former Agriculture and Livestock deputy minister Lackson Kazabu says he strongly doubts that drought-hit areas of the country will receive a stable and consistent supply of mealie-meal mainly due to government’s policy U-turn.

Commenting on government’s reversal of the mealie-meal export ban after initially lifting it in early March, Kazabu expressed strong doubts that there would be a stable supply of the commodity during the 2019 crop marketing season in drought-hit areas of the country, particularly Southern and Western provinces.

When the Ministry of Agriculture initially announced the lifting of the mealie meal export ban in early March, before being reversed five weeks later, mealie meal supply to drought-hit areas drastically reduced, with shortages sharply being felt by consumers owing to millers’ decision to re-direct the commodity to lucrative export markets.

The policy reversal equally coincided with Zambia’s low estimated maize production of just two million metric tonnes for the 2018-2019 agricultural season, down from 2.4 million tonnes produced last year, the lowest harvest in a decade.

“I have my own strong doubts (of a stable mealie meal supply) because the people in power just seem to play around with words. Right now, those areas that are hit by the drought that we experienced in the just-past rainy season are crying for food relief! And food relief is not reaching as quickly as expected,” Kazabu observed in an interview.

“One would have thought that, government would go out full-throttle and ensure that those ought to be rescued in terms of food supply are quickly rescued! In the meantime, we just keep on hearing promises that they will soon receive the little food. Even a day without food is more than enough; what about people who have gone for a week and they can’t eat their staple food, which is nshima? It is terrible! So, I can only impress upon the powers that be to ensure that they respond to these cries promptly.”

He observed that the mealie meal policy U-turn distorted the availability of the commodity on the local market.

“Now, sporadically, you come across situations where mealie-meal is said to be in huge supply so they should have not opened the gates to start exporting mealie meal because that ended up inconveniencing consumers in certain areas of our country. So, you need to be consistent,” said Kazabu, who served in the Michael Sata-led PF government.

“It is either you are going to allow the export of mealie meal because you know that domestic consumption is secure or you don’t because you fear that you may compromise domestic consumption. The colleagues that we left behind suffer from this very serious illness of inconsistency: today, they’ll make this decision, the next day, it’s another! In those circumstances, it becomes very difficult to predict what is going to happen going forward.”

The national average mealie meal price has continued escalating to an over one-year record high of K106.55 per 25Kg breakfast bag in May, 2019, compared to K79.56 for the same quantity one year prior, according to Central Statistical Office (CSO) data.