By Bulawayo Correspondent
ZIMBABWEAN millers have raised concern over the proliferation of cheaper brands of smuggled mealie-meal which they say continued to threaten the local milling industry.
Mealie-meal brands mostly from neighbouring Botswana and South Africa has flooded the local market, a development that has seen local millers scale down operations, and in some instances, laying off workers.
Southern Region millers who spoke to NewZimbabwe.com this past week said unless government intervened, a lot of milling companies could be forced to close shop.
Said one miller, “Smuggled foreign maize meal is killing Southern Region millers. We have stopped milling because the imports have adversely affected us in a manner that we cannot sell our mealie-meal.
“The imports are selling at US$3.50 for a 12,5 kg while we do not have that packaging. We only have 5, 10, 20 and 50 kgs. This price comparison is making it very difficult to sell the local product.”
The miller said his company was recently forced to lay off dozens of workers because retailers were no longer buying local mealie-meal brands.
“We have just laid off all our 59 staff members because we have no market for the mealie-meal. We have sent home the workers on forced leave with no pay because it is no longer possible to operate,” said the miller.
A worker at Rasesh milling company, Prosper Sibanda said his company has also scaled down operations due to the flooding of the cheap mealie-meal imports on the market.
“We have scaled down operations because cheap mealie-meal imports have adversely affected our business. Retailers now prefer this cheap mealie-meal because they are saying the local product is very expensive,” said Sibanda.
Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) Southern Region chairperson, David Moyo also confirmed that maize meal imports were choking the local milling industry.
“Here in Southern Region, we are facing difficulties in selling our mealie-meal due to the availability of imports from neighbouring countries. We were hoping that since we had a bumper harvest this year, millers were going to manage to supply our market, but the retailers are resisting saying our mealie -meal is too expensive compared to the one they are getting from the neighbouring countries,” said Moyo.
The GMAZ official implored government to protect the local millers from the maize meal imports.
“Our problem is that we know that the government has put in place Statutory Instrument 127 which bars all imports of grain but we are wondering why are we still experiencing a lot of mealie-meal coming from neighbouring countries. We think government should police the Statutory Instrument 127,” he said.