Mealie-meal diverted to black market
ILLICIT deals involving some unscrupulous suppliers and traders have been blamed for creating artificial shortages of mealie-meal in formal shops while the commodity is being diverted to the streets and pavements where it is being sold strictly in foreign currency.
Market analysts say this suffocation of supplies to major retail shops creates the impression that there is a shortage of supplies, and yet in actual fact, it is a ploy to force consumers to buy using forex as informal sector operators refuse local dollar transactions.
A snap survey conducted by Chronicle in Bulawayo yesterday revealed that major retail outlets such as TM Pick n’ Pay and OK supermarkets did not have mealie-meal on their shelves.
Other retail outlets such as Choppies, Spar, Greens, and Oceans, were also facing a similar predicament, although some had little stocks left on shelves.
This news crew observed that major brands such as Red Seal, Blue-Ribbon, and Pearlenta had completely vanished from retail shop shelves with only a few competing brands such as Oceans, Membar, and sorghum meals being available in smaller quantities.
Concerned customers who made inquiries with staffers could not get satisfactory answers, as some shops indicated that they have not had supplies for the past weeks.
The situation is different on the informal sector where most products and all brands are fully stocked, and the business thrives more at night. At the moment there is no standard price for mealie-meal as it varies from one shop to another with 10kgs ranging between ZWL$14 000 and ZWL$$18 000 depending on brands.
In foreign currency terms, the price of a 10kg mealie-meal ranges between US$5 and US$6 while that of a 50kg bag was pegged at US$27.
“We have not had mealie-meal in the shop for almost a week now. As you can see what was a mealie-meal shelf is now accommodating tomato sauce, juices or whatever is in abundance,” said a merchandiser from OK supermarket.
The same sentiments were echoed by Pick n’ Pay where shop workers said supplies were slim as getting orders was becoming a challenge with suppliers demanding forex payment upfront.
Contacted for comment, Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe chairman, Mr Tafadzwa Musarara, requested to have questions in writing and had not responded by time of going to print. However, Small-Scale Millers Association of Zimbabwe president, Mr Davis Muhambi, said the artificial shortages could be linked to supply chain bottlenecks.
“I don’t want to be speculative but there is a great possibility that millers have cut off the supply chain. The availability of mealie-meal and maize needs to be investigated thoroughly,” he said.
“Millers could possibly be holding the commodity as they may deem that it is no longer sustainable to supply the commodity in RTGs as compared to US dollars.
There are a lot of technicalities involved, which may require them to keep afloat, as well as to make profits from their business,” said Mr Muhambi.
He urged the Government to urgently investigate the issue and adopt appropriate measures to address the solution. Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president, Mr Denford Mutashu, said supply chain disruption was linked to the resurgent exchange rate volatility, which has resulted in sharp depreciation of the local currency.
“Government should urgently look into this matter. In fact, it should step up and consider the recommendations that we made to them to arrest such a scenario,” he said.
“Millers may and are possibly cutting off the supply due to the prevailing black-market rates. Mealie-meal must be prioritised as an urgent matter as it will fuel an upsurge of other commodities,” said Mr Mutashu.
He said it was ironic that while formal shops have no supplies, most commodities were readily available on the black market as suppliers were opting for foreign currency as opposed to the RTGs.
“Most commodities are readily available on the parallel market and in backyard kiosks where they are being sold at prices up to three times the official rate,” said Mr Mutashu.
“A 10 kg bag of maize meal sells for about US$6 as compared to the official price of the RTGs, which is between $15 000 and $20 000.”
Consumers who spoke to the news crew expressed frustration over the inconvenience caused by traders and appealed for Government intervention.
“I just came to buy mealie-meal and to my surprise it’s not available in such a big shop. This is a serious cause for concern,” said Mr Timothy Mpofu.
Meanwhile, the Government has announced tight policy measures aimed at stabilising the macro-economic environment and restoring the value of the local currency. This includes the lifting of all restrictions on the importation of basic commodities so as to boost market supplies as part of broader measures geared at tackling resurgent price madness and stabilising the economy.
Finance and Economic Development Minister, Professor Mthuli Ncube, has said the interventions have been necessitated by the resurgence of speculative macro-economic instability in which domestic inflation is driven primarily by the skewed preference for the use of the United States dollar as a savings currency.
Prof Ncube said the escalation in prices has piled enormous pressure on the exchange rate as the skewed preferences have continued to increase the velocity of the Zimbabwe dollar.
A Cabinet committee has also been set up to investigate the latest spate of basic commodity price increases as the Government moves to ensure corrective measures are taken to protect consumers.