Zimbabwe state hijacks maize imports

‘Keep calm’: Agricultural Minister Joseph Made. (Shepherd Tozvireva)

‘Keep calm’: Agricultural Minister Joseph Made. (Shepherd Tozvireva)

The government's decision to ban the private import of grain, in effect allowing the state's struggling Grain Marketing Board (GMB) a monopoly to ship and distribute maize, has been met with widespread criticism.

Without prior warning the ministry of agriculture this week stopped issuing maize import permits to independent grain millers and traders. All traders have been directed to buy their maize from the board.

Private traders claimed this would have severe consequences as they had already paid for the maize and its shipment from South Africa.

The Daily News this week reported that the government had entered into a secretive contract with ASP, a South African grain trader, for the supply of about 100 000 tonnes of nongenetically modified grain.

There are concerns that the board's ability to pay for and disburse maize to millers will be compromised by the parastatals lack of funds.

The chairperson of the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa Musarara, said the milling industry was shocked by the decision to have a single trader control supplies to the whole country.

'No need to panic'
Musarara also questioned ASP's promise to deliver 100 000 tonnes of maize.

"To the best of our knowledge, experience and dealings with the South Africa grain industry, there is currently not more than 40 000 metric tonnes of nongenetically modified white maize in all South Africa's silos combined. Most, if not all, of the maize is stored by Afgri, with the bulk of it owned by the South African Breweries," he said.

But Joseph Made, Zimbabwe's minister of agriculture, said there was no need to panic as the government was doing all it could to bring more supplies into the country.

"We have ordered more than 150 000 tonnes of maize from South Africa and GMB has been taking delivery of the supplies.
There is no need to panic. GMB is a very strategic entity with a responsibility to handle all the imports. It will deliver on that mandate as per Zanu-PF election promises," he said.

But private players said the decision to stop issuing maize import certificates would encourage an anticompetitive environment, as the board is also a miller.

Musarara said that if the government wanted local millers to buy only ASP maize, at the exclusion of other traders, it should just say so.

"There will be no need to have GMB as a middleman, whose participation will result in the price increase of maize meal, stock feeds and by extension milk, meat and eggs," he said.

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