AGRICULTURE Minister Michael Katambo says Zambia has enough maize and that the shortage in some parts of the country is being caused by unscrupulous traders who are buying mealie meal in bulk.

But Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) programmes manager Chimuka Nachibika questioned why government was not offloading the same maize to the market if they claimed to have enough maize to satisfy huge demand.

In an interview, Katambo said that mealie meal shortages in some parts of the country were caused by a distorted supply of maize, triggered by unscrupulous traders that had hoarded huge quantities of the commodity.

He explained that government had signed contracts with commercial farmers for the production of early maize to boost the country’s supply and insisted that the country had sufficient maize stocks to meet demand.

“We have contracts with the commercial farmers for the early maize; this is one way of boosting maize production in the country. The commercial farmers and the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) have gone into contracts to do early maize production and they will produce about 144,000 metric tonnes, which they have already produced, which will be ready by April/June. There is no shortage. We are supplying the millers that have got their stocks; FRA (Food Reserve Agency) is supplying and subsidizing millers. I was supposed to issue a ministerial statement; it is only because we adjourned, but we will be keeping the nation informed. The country is very much secure and there is no shortage; those were just created by unscrupulous traders who took advantage by buying in bulk and depriving the common person to buy accordingly,” said Katambo.

But in a separate interview, Nachibika said millers were accessing maize at a higher price, which had resulted in high mealie meal prices.

“There is no co-ordination between what the Minister and the millers are saying that there is enough grain. If there is enough grain, why can’t they offload it to the millers? We expected the co-ordination between the position of the Ministry and the millers themselves. It is very simple: if government wants to intervene in this process, there is no need to tell the millers to reduce the prices despite the millers buying maize at an escalated price. What government should have done is just to offload the maize that they have to the market, this is basic economics! When the supply and demand is less, then, definitely, the prices will go down. But if there is no supply and demand is high, this is why we are seeing escalation of prices because the millers are also accessing maize at a high price. They are adding value to the grain and they have to sell it at a very high price for them to be able to get profits. Basically, it is a simple analysis that government needs to come in, offload what they have, through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), and if they offload, then the millers will be able to access maize at a cheaper price and the price of mealie meal will go down,” said Nachibika.