Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) executive director Patrick Nshindano has welcomed the Food Reserve Agency’s decision to penalize millers that are selling mealie-meal at exorbitant prices.

Last week, FRA chief executive officer Chola Kafwabulula warned that millers selling mealie-meal at exorbitant prices after accessing maize from the agency at a subsidized cost risked being banned from buying the commodity for two seasons.

And in an interview, Nshindano said millers who were overcharging should be prosecuted accordingly because citizens have to benefit from their tax payers’ money.

“We do agree with the position taken by the FRA to penalize millers that have bought subsidized maize from the FRA and are offloading it at market price, because it’s not justifiable. Once you procure from the FRA at a subsidized price, we expected that as a miller, you should be able to transfer that benefit of procuring maize at a subsidized price to the consumers as your produce your mealie-meal, and [it] should not be the same as when you bought that maize based on market price. Therefore you find that it is the citizens then that start subsidizing the operations of the millers because the subsidy basically the cost is incurred by citizen taxation. So it is tax payers’ money and therefore they need to benefit from this pricing mechanism that is there though FRA [and] failure to do that they should be prosecuted accordingly,” Nshindano said.

He said government should put in place a mechanism of compelling millers to label the mealie-meal produced from the maize sourced from the agency.

“But there is a big challenge in this country in that we do not have a mechanism to be able to disaggregate maize that is procured through FRA and maize that is procured from the market as a whole by the millers. We are on record and we have made calls before that one of the things that FRA and government indeed should be able to do is that as the millers are procuring from FRA, they need to ensure that even the produce [or] the mealie-meal as it comes out, it reflects that this is through the FRA system, though labeling accordingly so that that mealie-meal which is labeled under the FRA, the price will be much lower to that which is produced taking into account all factors of the market and procured using the market system and market set price,” Nshindano said.

And Nshindano also stressed the need for an introduction of a government strategy of ensuring that mealie-meal produced from the subsidized maize reaches the vulnerable in society.

“[I am saying so] because it would be unfair to tell a miller to sale at FRA bought price in terms of maize for the mealie-meal when in fact they have a mix of commodities which have varied pricing mechanism. [So] unless the commodities are separated accordingly and the miller offloads them accordingly. But also when offloading, there has to be a strategic mechanism where the subsidy follows the vulnerable in society and that we shouldn’t subsidize individuals that are wealthy and are able to acquire and afford at market price. And that will then realize a challenge because how then do you tell how the miller is going to offload the commodity on the market. The long term solution really is to enhance productivity as a country and let the market regulate accordingly,” said Nshindano.

“Once you enhance productivity and efficiency in maize production, what you are going to see is that as a result of surplus, the mealie-meal prices are automatically going to come down and we won’t have this challenge of whether the commodity is coming from FRA or straight from the market because even the price at which the FRA will be procuring will be market oriented and the price which FRA will be offloading will also be market oriented. And these challenges will not be there. But when you continue having these inefficiencies within this agriculture sector in terms of production, this is where you have these challenges. So we need to look at how do we enhance productivity so that with the surplus we can be able to trigger down prices?”