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January 08, 2013

Zambian Millers Under Pressure to Sell at ‘Reasonable Prices’

by James Butty

Zambia’s information minister said millers of mealie-meal, the flour made from corn which is the country’s staple food, have agreed to sell the commodity at reasonable prices.  

Those prices rose last month from $8.50 to $15.00 per 25-kilogram bag.

Zambia's President Michael Sata speaks to journalists at the 18th African Union (AU) summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 30, 2012.
​​Before meeting with representatives of the Millers Association of Zambia Monday, President Michael Sata warned that, if they did not take action to protect the people by reducing their prices, he would do so himself. 

Sata said he did not want his government to be toppled by food riots, as was the case of Zambia’s founding president, Kenneth Kaunda.  

Information Minister Kennedy Sakeni said Mr. Sata is speaking on behalf of the people.

“The president had a fruitful meeting with the producers of mealie meal, our staple food, and the emphasis is that the maize is being given to the millers at a subsidized government price, hence the need for them to sell at reasonable prices afforded by the masses of our people,” he said.

Sakeni said some traders had been selling their mealie meal at exorbitant prices to Zambia’s neighbors who, he said, also depend on the commodity.

Sata reportedly told the Millers Association that he had the responsibility to protect the masses against manipulative practices by unscrupulous business persons.

Butty interview with Sakeni

Sata said he did not want his government to be toppled by food riots, as was the case of founding President Kenneth Kaunda.

“Honestly speaking, maize is the crop that forms our food security. Everybody is dependent on maize flour for survival and, definitely, the prices should be kept to the lowest level affordable by most of our poor people.  So, honestly speaking, the president was merely emphasizing the fact that nobody should be making big profits out of a commodity which the government is subsidizing to the milling companies,” he said.
The millers had said that their prices were in relation to the spike in the prices they are getting from the Zambian Food Reserve Agency.   
But, Sakeni said the traders, who buy from the millers, are also responsible for the spike in prices.

“The point is the millers themselves have emphasized that they are not charging exorbitant prices.  It is the traders, those who buy the commodity to sell to the people, who have been doing that.  But, I think everybody has agreed that they will be selling the maize flour at reasonable prices,” Sakeni said.

He said the government has every right to demand a reduction in mealie- meal prices because the government subsidizes the maize the millers are using to mill the flour.