Many consumers in Zimbabwe have welcomed the reduction of prices of most basic commodities, including "mealie-meal". But the situation hasn't improved for millers who complain they're struggling with an influx of the staple starch from neighboring countries. Mill owner Rita Gwaze lives in the Chinhoyi high density suburb of Gadzema. She warns matters have gone from bad to worse over the past few months. Business has deteriorated as increasing quantities of cheaper mealie-meal produced abroad, flood the local market.
Gwaze says, "What really changed is the way we sell our mealie-meal now compared to last year. Last year there was not enough mealie-meal in the country so people had to go to South Africa to buy it and our business was brisk. But the coming of the commodity and the going down of the prices has put us out of business." Her concerns have been echoed by miller Timothy Nyazika. He says buying maize from the Grain Marketing Board, or GMB at US $400 per ton was too expensive. He explains paying this much meant millers were a long way from recording any profit as their expenses, including transport and grinding, continue to climb.
Nyazika adds the GMB is only making matters worse. He wants the unity government to remove soldiers and senior ZANU(PF) officials who run the parastatal in Mashonaland West. But others remain positive. Leornard Matsa believes local millers will soon see an upswing in business, thanks to the poor quality of the imported mealie-meal.
"The way I see it is that the Zimbabwean miller is going to be [supported] by the consumers because, yes, you find out we have mealie-meal from outside stocking our shops these days. But if you go to the people in the community they are quite unhappy--there is discontent. People are saying that this mealie-meal we have in the shops right now does not last. If you want to look at it in terms of how long it takes a family of six to use a twenty kilogram pack it doesn't last. It moves very fast and after you have a meal it's quite easy to get hungry too soon again," Nyazika says.
At the same time consumers have little sympathy with millers. Most, like Peter Kadewere, are only too happy the starch has returned to supermarket shelves, "The good news is that the prices are changing in the right direction, fair and fine but what I am saying is that prices have not gone down to the level where everyone is comfortable."
But miller Leonard Matsa says it's the government's duty to protect the industry. He says, "It is very important that the government protect industries everywhere in the world and Zimbabwe is no exception. But you are aware our industry was not putting the same goods in the shops right, where they were able to manufacture something it made more sense to export so you cannot put a wall to goods not coming into the country when you don't have anything. The way I understand is that this inclusive government has resolved to open the floodgates of these imported goods into Zimbabwe as an interim measure to fill up the shelves so that people can eat."