MILLERS Association of Zambia (MAZ) president Andrew Chintala says the shortage of mealie meal in some parts of the country is a result of some millers shutting down milling plants, creating a gap in the supply of the commodity.

But Food Reserve Agency (FRA) chief executive officer Chola Kafwabulula has insisted that the Agency has continuously been releasing maize to millers in line with existing agreements to ensure stable supply of the commodity.

In an interview, Chintala disclosed that the shortage of mealie meal in selected areas of the country was triggered by some milling companies who had shut down operations on account of a lack of maize to continue milling.

He also expressed concern at the escalating mealie meal prices on the local market, which now averaged K162.30 per 25Kg breakfast bag, according to Zambia Statistics Agency (ZSA) data.

Retail outlets on the Copperbelt and Central provinces had in recent weeks completely run out of mealie meal, which triggered huge queues of consumers that scrambled for the commodity.

“I must admit that we have seen people queuing up. I went to one of the chain stores in Lusaka and word went round that mealie meal was delivered, people started running into the shop and started picking a bag! We have seen some reports on social media suggesting that there was a shortage of the commodity, it was just Lusaka and Copperbelt then. And following those reports, what we have seen is that it has triggered the panic buying among consumers because people are taking it that there may not be mealie meal tomorrow. A practical example I might give you is when the Energy Regulation Board (ERB) announces the price increase in terms of fuel, go and visit filling stations, you will see people will queue until midnight,” Chintala said.

“So usually, the information that was circulating is what has triggered the panic among citizens. However, if you visit some of these compounds, you find that some of these shops have mealie meal, but the concern that I had was the price they are selling the mealie meal; the price is ranging from K175 to K180. There is a shortage, somehow, but this is something that we are working on. We have made proposals and interventions to mitigate this shortage that we have seen in the past few days. I admit, that, due to some millers shutting down, due to lack of maize, they have created the gap in terms of supply.”

He, however, urged consumers not to panic as there was still enough maize in the country.

“I would also want to urge consumers that there is no need to panic about getting the commodity. There are millers that are still running and there are others that have run out of maize. We are working with government in trying to address the issues that are affecting the millers in terms of maize supply into the mills because of lack of maize on the open market. There is something that is being done. Obviously, within a few days or so, you should be able to see that the situation gets better,” Chintala explained.

He also appealed to the FRA to offload more maize on the market in view of the shortage.

“Under the FRA Act, there are two instances where FRA should intervene whenever there is a shortage: if there is price distortion or manipulation in the market, FRA can offload maize to stabilize the price of the commodity. Secondly, it is when there is limited or no supply of maize on the market, which may trigger the shortage of the commodity like the case we are dealing with now. The tripartite deal that people have been talking about was initiated to try and stabilize the mealie meal prices that are escalating. The situation we are dealing with now is that there is limited supply of mealie meal. So, now, FRA can intervene by releasing maize so that those millers who don’t have the maize can access and offload it on the market so that we can cushion the impact of the shortage. This is something we have already done and are finalizing. I am sure by next (this) week, you should be able to see the situation normalize,” said Chintala.

And in a separate interview, Kafwabulula assured consumers that the Agency was still releasing maize to millers in line with the existing agreement.

“We have been releasing maize and we are still releasing,” said Kafwabulula.