A critical mealie meal shortage has hit Kabwe town with a 25 kg bag of breakfast mealie meal selling at about K230.

And a check in Lusaka stores, including Shoprite Kabulonga, Lewanika business centre, Pick n Pay Woodlands mall and retail shops in Chilenje showed that the commodity was in short supply.

The shopkeepers talked to said even the few bags of mealie meal that were found on the shelves had already been paid for.

Central Province Permanent Secretary Bernard Chomba, however, claimed that the shortage was artificial because local millers were exporting the commodity.

Chomba claimed that the province had enough maize reserves to feed everyone in the area at an affordable price.

“The shortage in Kabwe is artificial. What is happening is that some milling companies that are being subsidised by government, instead of selling mealie meal in Central Province, they are selling the commodity outside the province. For example, I found a truck at FVG milling taking the mealie meal to Chipata,” Chomba said.

The Permanent Secretary said he had since directed the police to impound all vehicles that were taking mealie meal out of the province.

He threatened to close down shops in Kabwe that he said were exploiting consumers by selling the staple food at an exorbitant price.

“I shall soon have a meeting with the Local Authority to ensure that we bring the price of mealie to the accepted government standard. Imagine business people buying a bag of mealie here at Simba milling at K130 and then selling it at K220 to Makululu residents. I am appealing to the business community to reduce the price of mealie meal before the law catches up with them. We shall close down all shops that will be found selling the commodity at an exploitative price,” he said.

Chomba assured that government would not allow exploitative tendencies by the business community.

“People have become greedy. Traders are buying in bulk because they are taking advantage of the artificial shortage of mealie meal. They want to make a profit where there is no profit. This mealie meal that they are selling at a high price, they are actually killing Zambians. We cannot, as government allow such exploitative tendencies,” said Chomba.

Meanwhile, National Democratic Congress (NDC) president Chishimba Kambwili has predicted that mealie meal prices will shoot to K300 per 25 kg bag if government does not find resources to subsidise the commodity immediately.

“Mealie meal prices will cause trouble in this country and if we are not careful, it will lead to civil unrest. Those in government have failed us; they keep on grossing over this issue of mealie meal even when they know that the matter is very serious. It is now five months since the price of mealie meal started rising from K85 to over K100, and now the price of mealie meal here in Lusaka is K205. But what are the salaries for people in this country? Guards and maids earn about K700, those who work in the Chinese stores earn about K700, are you telling me that people are now just going to be working for two bags of mealie meal? Because a family of about five people consumes 50 kg of mealie meal per month and government has been lying to us; President Lungu is on record, Minister of Agriculture is on record, almost all PF MPs are on record telling people in their constituencies that prices of mealie meal will start coming down. But what we are seeing is the opposite,” Kambwili said.

Kambwili projected that mealie meal prices will go up to K300 per 25 kg bag by May towards June if government did not subsidise the maize.

“The price of mealie meal is going to be close to K300 by May. I predict that and I challenge anybody to challenge me. If prevailing circumstances continue, with or without a bumper harvest, the price of maize is going to hit about K300. Otherwise millers will close their milling companies because they will not be making any profit. And if you dare try to temper with the price of maize, farmers will also stop producing. So the only way out now is to subsidise the price of mealie meal whether you like it or not,” he said.

Meanwhile, PF deputy secretary general Mumbi Phir said the purported shortage of mealie meal prices in the country was a scheme by UPND to create an artificial shortage of the commodity in the country.

“Today on Millennium radio, there was a lady who called from Matero constituency complaining about the mealie meal shortage. [But] as I said on Saturday in Livingstone, there is an artificial creation of mealie meal shortage in Zambia. There are some people who are paying people to go and buy mealie meal in bulk, where they are talking it nobody knows. This lady who called from Matero actually is a regular UPND caller on the radio and I called in to explain the situation as I said in Livingstone and I further mentioned that last week on Friday, I was forced to call Joy FM where a similar topic was being discussed and I explained as I have explained that there are people who paying people to go into shops where the mealie meal is cheap, mainly Shoprite, Pick n Pay and where they are taking that mealie meal nobody knows,” she explained.

She said after the gassing had subsidised, some people were planning to inflict another calamity on citizens using the mealie meal shortage.

“On Millennium radio today (Wednesday), other people also called in. There was a lady called bana Silele from Garden Chilulu who confirmed that actually, there is one man who has been identified there, each time African Milling drops mealie meal in shops there where they supply, this man goes in and gets all the mealie meal and the residents there are wondering where this man takes the mealie meal. So I have been encouraging whenever I hear people who are crying over the shortage of mealie meal to effect a citizen arrest on such people because it’s a deliberate move since the gassing has settled now they want to create mealie meal shortages,” said Phiri.

“I went further, I called the Minister of Agriculture, he told me that actually called for a meeting for the millers and the manager Mr Botha from Lusaka head office Shoprite so that they could have a meeting. But even us as a party I am intending to call Mr Botha tomorrow, he should know that we are also aware.