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MAIZE-meal imports have taken up 55 percent of the local market share, forcing grain millers to produce only about 30 percent of their total production and threatening about 8 000 jobs in the sector following the slowdown in production capacity.

Millers say the slowdown in production capacity is a direct result of maize-meal import permits issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development.

The millers said their line ministry issued import permits for 200 000 tonnes of maize-meal, contrary to Government policy of promoting local industry and in support of the economic blueprint, Zim-Asset which values beneficiation and value-addition. What is worrying to the millers is that the import permits were issued to middlemen, briefcase traders who are neither shop owners nor members of the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe.

While milling companies struggle to compete on price with cheap imported maize-meal, whose quality the millers suspect to be GMO, the production of stock feeds, a by-product of the maize-meal production process also stands threatened.

More importantly, contract farming, an initiative by the private sector to enhance food security will be affected if millers fail to recoup investments due to the maize-meal imports.

Last season, millers put about 150 000 hectares of land under contract farming but said the current price war dissuades contract farming this season. Millers are part of the grain value chain, producing maize through contract farming, processing and value addition into maize products and producing stock feed for livestock.

Investigations carried by The Herald Business in areas around Bulawayo and Gwanda showed that imported maize-meal is whole-selling at prices far below locally produced maize meal.

For instance, a 10kg bag of imported maize-meal, Silvercloud is selling at $4,75 compared to locally produced maize-meal selling at $5,35 in Gwanda. Local millers say the high price is a result of imported grain from Zambia which is landing at about $300 per tonne.

In order to compete with the maize-meal imports millers have been forced to reduce the producer price of maize to farmers at prices between $140 and $200 per tonne down from $300 per tonne. Some millers said they have been forced to reduce production levels to about 30 tonnes per month from as high as 250 tonnes as the impact of imported maize-meal imports begins to hit the market.

Chairperson of the Grain Millers Association Matabeleland Chapter Mr Thembinkosi Ndlovu said millers have the capacity to meet local demand and export maize-meal to other countries.

“We have capacity to export maize-meal. It’s not true that we cannot meet demand,” he told a Press conference following an emergency meeting of the association on the state of the industry.

“We are also worried that livestock production will be affected if we scale down production,” Mr Ndlovu said.

“Millers are on the brink of collapse. We believe that the Ministry of Agriculture has issued maize-meal import permits of about 200 000 tonnes that has taken place in the leading retailers crowding out local produce. Such a policy flies in the face of efforts to industrialise Zimbabwe and to promote value addition and beneficiation,” he said.

Bulawayo-based miller Mr David Moyo, who owns Lumelang Batho milling company, said he has been forced to supply only about a third of his usual production.

“We are operating from Bulawayo supplying Matabeleland South. Since Government introduced imports of mealie-meal, our business is no longer moving. We used to deliver in a month about 250 tonnes of mealie-meal but since the import permits we dropped our production to about 30 tonnes per month,” he said.

Source : The Herald