Zambia, a southern African nation, has activated an emergency response to address the critical shortage of mealie meal, a staple food in the country. Long queues and rising prices have been reported, leading to unrest in some areas, including clashes with the police.
The Zambian government has attributed the shortage to high demand in neighboring countries and smuggling of the commodity. As a result, security measures have been stepped up in border areas to curb smuggling activities. President Hakainde Hichilema has acknowledged the seriousness of the situation and stated that measures are being implemented to improve the availability of mealie meal.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, President Hichilema said, “We acknowledge the seriousness of the current situation, particularly with the shortage of the commodity in some neighboring countries. We anticipate that the measures implemented will improve the situation and we will closely monitor developments on the ground.” He has also urged citizens to maintain lawful and orderly conduct and uphold the interventions implemented by the government.
To address the shortage, the Minister of Finance and National Planning, Situmbeko Musokotwane, has signed a statutory instrument to suspend duty on mealie meal. The government hopes that this will increase the availability of the commodity in the country.
However, critics have blamed the government for poor planning, and some stakeholders have suggested that the solution lies in increasing maize production to meet both domestic demand and exports. Fred M’membe, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, has criticized the government’s decision to remove duty on the importation of mealie meal as a desperate measure. He argued that addressing maize pricing parity in the region is the real issue, as Zambia’s maize is too cheap compared to other countries, leading to pressure for it to be smuggled out of the country.
Peter Sinkamba, leader of the opposition Green Party, also expressed concerns about the lack of policy direction by the government and called for incentives to be put in place to encourage farmers to grow more maize to meet the increasing population’s demand.
In addition, Isaac Mwaipopo, the executive director of the Center for Trade and Policy Development (CTPD), has suggested that solar hammer mills installed with the support of the Chinese government could be a solution to Zambia’s mealie meal shortages if properly implemented. Mwaipopo highlighted the need to evaluate the performance of the solar hammer mills and address any bottlenecks in the project to ensure its effectiveness. Over 1,000 solar-powered milling plants were installed in Zambia under the Presidential Milling Plants Initiative with Chinese support, aimed at reducing the price of mealie meal and tackling poverty. China has also helped construct three industrial milling plants in Zambia to enhance food security and reduce the price of mealie meal.
The government’s emergency response and measures to increase the availability of mealie meal are being closely watched as Zambia grapples with the ongoing shortage. Citizens and stakeholders are calling for comprehensive solutions to address the issue and ensure food security in the country.