The Zambian government has activated an emergency response to tackle the shortage of mealie meal, also known as maize meal or mielie meal, which has hit this African nation.
Zambia has experienced a critical shortage of mealie meal, used in preparing the country’s staple food, resulting in people queuing to buy the commodity. The situation has also resulted in a sharp rise in the price of the commodity.
On Tuesday, people in Chingola town in the Copperbelt Province ran amok and fought running battles with the police over the shortage of the commodity. The situation has resulted in counter-accusations with the government blaming the high demand for the commodity in some neighboring countries where local people are smuggling it.
The government stepped up security measures in border areas to curb the smuggling of the commodity. Critics, however, have accused the government of poor planning.
President Hakainde Hichilema said an emergency response has been activated to address the situation following a consultative meeting between the government and the private sector.
“We acknowledge the seriousness of the current situation, particularly with the shortage of the commodity in some neighboring countries. We anticipate that the measures implemented will improve the situation and we will closely monitor developments on the ground,” he said, urging citizens to maintain lawful and orderly conduct.
Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane signed a statutory instrument to provide for the suspension of duty on mealie meal. This measure has been implemented to help address the shortage of the commodity in some parts of the country.
Some stakeholders, however, believe that the government is to blame for the current shortage with others suggesting that the solution lies in increasing the annual production of maize in order to meet both the domestic demand and exports.
Stakeholders are wondering why the country could be experiencing a critical shortage of mealie meal when the government has been boasting that it has sufficient maize in reserves to meet local demand.
Fred M’membe, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, said the decision by the government to remove duty on the importation of mealie meal is a desperate measure, adding that the real issue is addressing maize parity pricing in the region.
“Our maize is too cheap in comparison to other countries in the region so the pressure of our maize leaving the country will always be there,” he stressed, adding that, despite the duty waiver, the export pressure due to lucrative prices in neighboring countries will still incentivize the smuggling of imported mealie meal.
Green Party leader Peter Sinkamba said the current crisis was an indication that the government lacks policy direction. He said it was time the government put in place incentives that will allow farmers to grow more maize to meet the demand of the increasing population, local media quoted him as saying.
Isaac Mwaipopo, the executive director of the Center for Trade and Policy Development (CTPD), believes that solar hammer mills installed with the support of the Chinese government could sort out Zambia’s mealie meal shortages if properly implemented.
Mwaipopo said there is a need to evaluate the performance of the solar hammer mills and relook at the model because the project could deliver if the bottlenecks it has encountered were addressed.
He said the solar hammer mill project was established to reduce the price of mealie meal and tackle poverty but noted that so far there has been no report to evaluate the performance and the impact on the cost of mealie meal. Over 1,000 solar-powered milling plants were installed in Zambia under the Presidential Milling Plants Initiative with the support of China.
China has also helped the southern African nation to construct three industrial milling plants, with a combined capacity to produce 520 metric tons of mealie meal per day as part of efforts to enhance food security and reduce the price of mealie meal.