Oliver Kazunga, Senior Business Reporter
GOVERNMENT has directed the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) to investigate cases involving supermarkets selling imported mealie-meal before “relevant action” is taken against those involved in smuggling.
Finance and Economic Development Deputy Minister Clemence Chiduwa said this in an interview following concerns by the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) that millers in the southern region have been hit hard by smuggled foreign mealie-meal, which continues to flood the market.
“We have deployed Zimra to go on the ground with the list that we have submitted to check all these supermarkets that are selling imported maize meal,” said the Deputy Minister.
“Maybe it is because of having stocked in their warehouses or they actually smuggled but what we need is to actually check if their papers are in order.
“In terms of the policy position, if there is any that was smuggled then it should be accounted for by Zimra . . . if it was smuggled, then Zimra will take the relevant action.”
Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) southern region chairman, Mr David Moyo had told journalists during a tour of milling companies in Bulawayo last week that local producers were being crippled by continued importation of mealie-meal in the market.
Due to successive droughts experienced in recent years, Zimbabwe has been importing an average of 100 000 tonnes of maize per month from the region and as far as South America.
This comes at a time when the Government has banned the importation of grain as the country has recorded a bumper harvest.
According to the Second Round of Crop and Livestock Assessment Report for 2021 released recently, estimated maize production stands at 2,7 million tonnes, which is 199 percent of last year’s output. Zimbabwe requires about 1,8 million tonnes of maize annually.
The Government lifted the ban on private grain sales in October 2019 and granted the nod to individuals and corporates with free funds to import.
“As Treasury working together with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement we suspended the issuance of grain import permits together with the importation of mealie-meal with effect from 1 May.
“This then means from 1 May, if there is an inflow that came in it was probably because of the previous commitment.
“But in terms of any grain and maize meal that came after that without permits, probably it can be as a result of smuggling. So, we then engaged GMAZ together with other stakeholders to check the degree of the alleged smuggled mealie-meal imports.
“We checked in Bulawayo and we got about seven supermarkets that are selling imported mealie-meal, in Gweru we have got two, and Chiredzi (1),” said the Deputy Minister.
Some local milling companies are said to have closed shop due to stiff competition from cheap imported maize meal.
For instance, a 12,5 kg bag of imported mealie-meal is selling at US$3,50 compared to a local 10 kg maize meal bag which costs US$5.
GMAZ has appealed to the Government to protect the local milling industry pointing out that due to continued viability concerns posed by stiff competition from imported mealie-meal, among others, millers in the southern region have in recent past laid off over 1 000 workers.
The association has 50 members in the Southern region which covers, Bulawayo, Gwanda, Victoria Falls Gweru and Masvingo. In a separate interview, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Mr Denford Mutashu said his organisation has not done an assessment of the quantum of imported mealie-meal versus the local product.
“It is, however, a fact that local product is way too expensive compared to imported 12,5kg bag. Local millers should definitely work on their pricing for the product to attract the consumers,” he said.
Following the bumper harvest, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) Governor Dr John Mangudya has hinted that on account of the bumper harvest achieved this year, Zimbabwe would not import any maize, but rather, will save over US$300 million, which will be channeled to the productive sector.
Prior to the bumper harvest, the country was spending US$30 million monthly on maize imports. — @okazunga.