Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo has accused private sector companies of taking advantage of Zambia’s drought conditions this year to hike mealie meal prices by adding abnormal mark-up prices of K50 per 25Kg breakfast bag.

And Katambo has insisted that the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) will not intervene in trying to bring down mealie meal prices because “consumers have not benefited as a result of millers accessing subsidised grain”.

Meanwhile, Katambo has assured Zambians that mealie meal prices will eventually stabilise in the medium-term owing to proactive measures being implemented by government.

Speaking during a press briefing in Lusaka, Monday, where he update the nation on the escalating mealie meal prices and maize situation, Katambo accused retail outlets of being the primary drivers of the high mealie meal prices in the country as they were found effecting an ‘abnormal’ mark-up price of K50 per 25Kg breakfast bag, while others were adding between K3-4 per 25Kg bag.

“This is a unique year, and government expects all players to be responsible in their pricing. I must hasten to mention that based on the analysis conducted by the Ministry, some business houses have been taking advantage of the situation and are adding abnormal mark-up on the wholesale price or rather the order price of mealie meal. Some have been adding between K3-K4 per 25Kg bag of mealie meal, whereas others are adding more than K50 per 25Kg bag of mealie meal. This is the major challenge that government is currently addressing,” Katambo disclosed.

“You may wish to note that my Ministry has been engaging millers, and from our discussions, millers have agreed to meet this week and strategise on how they can bring the wholesale price of mealie meal closer to consumers. Once the millers conclude discussions, the Ministry will duly inform the public on the way forward.”

He insisted that FRA would not intervene in the escalating mealie meal prices.

“Let me bring to the attention of the nation calls by some for government to intervene through FRA. I wish to state that the position of the Ministry on this matter is as follows: the Ministry has done an analysis that shows that offloading maize by FRA to millers does not benefit consumers. FRA needs to offload huge quantities of maize to have an impact on mealie meal prices; this is not sustainable and will deplete the much-needed strategic reserves,” he explained.

“We are aware that there are some market players and some sections of society who have caught onto the habit of requesting for supplies from FRA strategic reserves. This, of course, is under the pretext that the stocks will reduce mealie meal prices for consumers. However, despite accessing strategic reserves cheaply, it has not translated into low mealie meal prices. Further, FRA has very limited stocks, which need to be offloaded prudently and in anticipation of any supply challenges that may arise after February, 2020. It is important that the country has adequate food reserves in the event the situation worsens.”

He also observed that the country’s maize situation had been exacerbated by drought.

“You may wish to note that the situation we are experiencing now is due to the drought that affected most of last season. given the forecast of normal to above normal rainfall and a good harvest, I would like to assure the nation that the prevailing maize supply situation and mealie meal prices are a temporal situation,” he said.

“I wish to indicate that the lasting solution to high mealie meal prices is to increase maize production. To this effect, the Ministry is working closely with maize industry stakeholders to ensure we begin to have bumper harvests starting from 2020 and beyond as directed by His Excellency, the President Dr Edgar Chagwa Lungu.”

Meanwhile, Katambo assured Zambians that mealie meal prices would eventually stabilize in the medium-term owing to government’s measures currently being implemented.

“When you factor in the early distribution of inputs under the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP), which my Ministry is doing, Zambia will have a good harvest and mealie meal prices will stabilize. With regard to the prevailing maize supply and mealie meal prices, government has put in place the following measures: my Ministry is closely monitoring maize stock levels to ensure that the country has sufficient grain to last us until the next harvest. The Ministry of Agriculture is not allowing the export of maize and maize products. To this effect, other wings of government are working with the Ministry to ensure that all available stocks remain in the country. As you know, smuggling is a serious threat to national food security. It has the potential of creating maize shortages and higher mealie meal prices in the country,” said Katambo.

“I would like to inform the nation that as earlier promised, I had stated that the distribution of inputs under the Farmer Input Programme will commence by the 1st of September, 2019. I am happy to confirm that the distribution of inputs commenced way before the 1st of September, 2019, and we hope to complete this exercise within the month of September. This is a remarkable achievement and I would like to encourage the officers involved to continue working hard.”