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CLIP SMUGGLERS

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THE desire to sell maize beyond the national borders stems much more from greed and can spark a shortage and sharp rise in the price of the staple food.
For now, the export ban of maize and mealie meal still subsists to guarantee national food security and ensure the prices of mealie meal are within affordable levels.
With the ban in force, some greedy “traders” are buying the grain from small-scale farmers around the country with an illicit aim of selling the commodity across the border; this is greed of the highest order.
It will be important to put issues into context through a simple analysis of maize production figures for this year.
Zambia has this year produced about 3.4 million tonnes of maize, the second largest output on record and 65 percent above the level in 2019 of 2, 004, 389 tonnes.
Out of the total output, the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) has been tasked to buy one million tonnes for strategic reserves while the private sector is expected to buy the rest from small-scale farmers.
The FRA has fixed the maize price at K110 for a 50kg bag while soya beans of the same weight is going at K150 and paddy rice at K70 for a 40kg bag.
With a projected population of over 17 million people, the total maize required for both industrial and human consumption is about 3.3 million tonnes, just slightly above this year’s total output.
Government, therefore, would not risk opening the borders for maize exports because that could lead to food shortages as traders and other people alike will start flocking to frontiers to sell the grain, especially to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, it is safer for Zambia to maintain the ban on maize and mealie meal exports.
One of the effects of the pandemic is the unavoidable breakdown in food supply chain, which poses a threat to food availability.
Secondly, the reduction in economic activities and loss of income are likely to curtail capacity in many households to access food, hence the need to maintain the export ban.
It is surprising, therefore, that even with the critical factors being very clear, some unscrupulous elements still want to smuggle the maize to neighbouring country without due regard for the local people who are in dire straits.
The story of the 23 truckloads of maize which were impounded before being transported into Zimbabwe is a case in point.
Smugglers should appreciate that the maize they are attempting to haul out of the country was grown from subsidised inputs at Government expense.
Therefore, the output must be consumed locally until such a time that the strategic reserves are full and the open market has excess grain.
Millers should have enough maize in the storage facilities all the time so that the mealie meal prices are affordable to the ordinary citizens.
Smuggling of maize is counterproductive and a smudge in Zambia’s quest to diversify the economy from heavy dependency on copper mining to agriculture.
For several years, the Zambian economy has relied on the mining sector, which has been affected by fluctuations in commodity prices.
This is the more reason why stakeholders have been calling on accelerating economic diversification to agricultural and other critical sectors.
Smugglers must be clipped!