PRICES of maize from Zambia have started soaring after its government banned exports of the staple grain, Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe president Tafadzwa Musarara said.
Zambia, which recorded a surplus last season, was exporting maize through the Food Reserve Agency, but suspended exports as it sought to verify the country’s food security.
Zimbabwe, which is facing a serious shortage of maize, is now importing the grain from private players in Zambia who have since taken advantage of the export ban to hike prices.
The grain price increase has also been triggered by high demand as South Africa has started importing organic maize from Zambia. During the past three weeks, the landing price of gain rose by about 17 percent to $315 per tonne, according to Musarara.
“We all knew about this problem and that’s why we wanted to start importing from May last year to ensure uninterrupted supply of maize and price stability,” said Musarara.
He said the government should expedite issuance of permits to allow importers to procure the grain from South America.
“If we were given the permits to import from South America long back, we should, by now have imported enough grain. It wasn’t viable to rely on Zambia. We need import permits to procure maize from South America; Argentina and Brazil to build up stocks before there is a shortage and riots.”
Last week, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made admitted the grain situation was precarious but assured that the nation will not starve.
Minister Made blamed grain importers for failing to import enough maize despite being issued with permits.
But Musarara argued the permits for Zambia alone were not sufficient to procure enough grain.
“Yes, we were given the permits to import from Zambia but our biggest challenge is logistics,” he said.
“If the government had opened up other borders, then obviously the situation will be different. We could have utilised rail and road to transport maize from South Africa, then rail and road again to transport the grain (from South America) through Beira.”
Economic analysts say the government should start issuing import permits, also considering that the projected harvest for the current season is likely to be significantly lower compared with last year due to El Nino, a weather phenomenon which causes drought.
“We shouldn’t wait for a crisis. We’re facing drought and action must be immediately taken,” said one analyst.
Minister Made said the government had mobilised $260 million for grain imports to ensure the strategic reserve is maintained at minimum levels.
He said the government would import between 500,000 and 700,000 tonnes of maize adding that individual companies interested in importing maize should apply for permits.