Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sichinga tells millers to act responsibly on prices
By Stuart Lisulo
Wed 08 Jan. 2014, 14:00 CAT

THE stalemate between the Millers Association of Zambia and the government over the rising price of mealie-meal looks set to continue.

But agriculture minister Robert Sichinga insists the millers should act responsibly to help reduce mealie-meal prices, which have reached unprecedented levels, selling at over K70.00 per 25kg breakfast bag in selected outlets in Lusaka.

Millers Association of Zambia (MAZ) president Allan Sakala said in interview on Friday that the millers were still waiting for the government to respond to calls for an urgent meeting to seek clarity on the actual price of maize to be sold following the government's hike to K1,700.00 per tonne through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA).

The hike in the price has caused consternation among the millers, who insist they are only able to comply with the government's
directive to sell breakfast and roller meal at K65.00 and K45.00 per 25kg bag, respectively, if maize is sold to millers at K1,600.00 per
tonne.

"We are still waiting for government to react because this is a national issue; once they have reacted, we will take our next course of action. The ball is in their government's court," Sakala said.
He said since the price of maize was very high, it was virtually impossible to adhere to the prices directed by the government.

"The only problem is that the maize itself is expensive; we are landing maize into the mill at about K1,900.00, something like that. And FRA has not yet started offloading [the maize - they are still working out the modalities of how we are going to get the maize. As long as the maize prices remain high, I do not see how we can address that situation unless the agriculture ministry comes up with
conducive prices which we can digest; then we will be able to resolve the issue of mealiemeal prices," he said.

But Sichinga in a separate interview said: "We have offloaded maize onto the market.

As government, we have done our part; when you talk about liberalisation and private sector participation, we expect the private sector to act responsibly."

He said there was no need for any consultative meetings between the government and stakeholders because last month's meeting "sufficiently resolved" the issue of mealiemeal prices. "There are no plans on the part of government to hold another consultative meeting.

All of them had the opportunity to say what they wanted to say and participate and all the issues were concluded, not just with the millers, but grain traders and ZNFU," Sichinga said.

He reiterated that the onus was on the millers to help reduce the prices of the mealie-meal.

"They are supposed to show good faith and confirm that some of their millers have received additional maize; the price at the moment they are supposed to determine; the price is not being fixed by government - it is supposed to be as a result of supply and
demand, and we expect that they will act responsibly.

The truth of the matter is that they are not prepared to lower the prices because they want to make super profits, and Mr Sakala knows that," Sichinga said.

He further said consumers should be questioning the millers and not the government on the ever-rising prices of mealie-meal as government had already done its part.

Sichinga also explained that since the removal of subsidies on fuel and maize early last year, the price of maize sold by FRA could not go any further than the K1,700.00 per tone limit.

"When we removed subsides, it means we cannot sell maize at a price lower than is being dictated by FRA - they have to break even.

The price at which we are selling is, in fact, much more modest because FRA buys its stocks in areas where the private sector do not go, so it is a much more extensive assignment for them to bring those stocks to the market," said Sichinga.

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