COPPERBELT University business lecturer Dr Lubinda Haabazoka says it is unacceptable to have mealie-meal shortages in a country which recorded a bumper harvest last farming season.

And some millers in Lusaka have called on the government to investigate the mealie-meal and maize bran shortages on the Copperbelt.

Almost all towns on the Copperbelt have been hit by a serious mealie meal shortage, a situation attributed to rampant smuggling of the commodity into the Democratic Republic of Congo where there is huge demand. But Copperbelt based millers promised when they met agriculture minister Emmanuel Chenda last Saturday that normal supply of mealie meal is expected to resume today.

In an interview, Dr Haabazoka questioned the shortage of mealie-meal in some parts of Copperbelt and an increase in the price of the commodity after recording back-to-back bumper maize harvests.

He said the mealie-meal situation, if not quickly addressed, could force the country's annual inflation to rise and potentially erode the country's economic gains recorded in the past.

The shortage of mealie-meal on the Copperbelt has persisted over the past one week with residents travelling to Ndola in search of the commodity.
The government has attributed the shortage to some millers who have been accused of hoarding maize stocks in a bid to force the Food Reserve Agency to offload maize at a subsidised rate.

"Being a staple food, increases in mealie meal prices can trigger an increase in the prices of other essential goods as most traders, especially small scale, would want to compensate their increased family feeding costs," Dr Haabazoka said.

He said the shortages exposed lapses in the country's distribution mechanism of its staple food.
Dr Haabazoka urged the government to ensure food security taking into account that the country still had no serious rains, almost a month into the rainy season.

Demand for Zambian produced mealie-meal has lately increased in DR Congo forcing traders to smuggle the commodity from Copperbelt through the porous Kasumbalesa border post.

Dr Haabazoka noted that the demand for Zambian mealie meal and other goods and services by Congo DR had been underestimated by the government and the private sector, rendering current maize distribution strategies ineffective.

"We cannot afford to ignore Congolese demand for our products so it is in the best interest of government and the private sector to ensure that when optimising the amount of goods produced in Zambia, we consider demand from that country," he said.

"There is need though to engage with Congolese stakeholders to ensure that goods are not smuggled into that country but use the correct channels so that government is not robbed of income."

George Konidaris, managing director of APG Group of Companies - the millers of APG mealie meal - wondered what could be causing the shortages of mealie-meal and maize bran on the Copperbelt.
Konidaris, however, advised the government to ensure smuggling was quickly addressed.

And African Milling Company Limited financial controller Ismail Lunat said the company had enough maize and bran stocks for the Lusaka market.
A check at African Milling and APG milling plant in Lusaka found production of mealie-meal in full swing with trucks waiting to transport the commodity within Lusaka.

The two firms were however reluctant to exploit the Copperbelt market at the moment where demand has far outstripped supply.