Subsidised roller meal is being diverted to the black market by buyers who grab consignments as they reach the shop shelves.
The buyers then offload the roller meal to informal traders who often repack it into smaller bags, with these two sets of middlemen more than doubling the $50 price of the original 10kg bag.
In addition, black market informal traders demand cash only, which many needing mealie-meal have to get from another set of informal traders, mobile money vendors, who gouge a premium of between 25 percent and 35 percent.
This comes amid concerns that some people were panic-buying the roller meal in the face of shortages.
The Government is fighting back by increasing supplies, with a freer flow of maize-meal expected from next week.
It will work with the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) to monitor shopkeepers to ensure the maize-meal is distributed fairly and that shops take precautions to stop the middlemen from grabbing bulk of deliveries.
It is understood that many of the “professional buyers” have connections to retailers who sell it as it arrives.
The middlemen take it to the parallel market and sell the full 10kg packets, or repackage into anything from 500g, popularly known as “tsaona” (emergency), to 5kg.
A 10kg pack of roller meal is then sold, for cash, for between $75 and $110, while 5kg is sold for $55, a 2kg pack costs $15, while 500g costs $9.
Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza yesterday assured consumers that supplies of the subsidised roller meal will soon improve.
“During the course of the holidays, there were some challenges where some companies failed to deliver, which induced panic-buying and hoarding,” she said. “However, this has since been resolved as Government is augmenting local production with maize grain imports.
“As of yesterday, the ministry verified with GMB that maize grain is available. The import deliveries have been coming on a daily basis and are expected to alleviate the mealie-meal shortage.”
Minister Nzenza said her ministry was working with CZR, which has promised to institute measures to at protect consumers.
“The president of CZR Mr (Denford) Mutashu has assured that in order to protect the consumer, they are monitoring the retail shops so that mealie-meal is not only available, but is also sold at the subsidised price of $50 per 10kg and is distributed to all Zimbabweans fairly,” she said.
Mr Mutashu said the supply of roller meal remained constrained, but millers had assured retailers that supplies would improve next week.
“Current supply is still constrained as millers require more maize to meet demand, but I have just had a meeting with the millers and they have assured me that from next week, there will be mealie meal in the supermarkets,” said Mr Mutashu.
The Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) said it was using “free funds” and had since procured 50 000 tonnes of maize from South Africa.
A consignment is expected to arrive next week.
“This is to complement what GMB has and we are also going to prioritise roller meal production from the privately sourced maize,” said GMAZ spokesperson Mr Garikai Chaunza.
Efforts to get the list of millers working with Government were fruitless.
The subsidy is handled by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, which deals with individual grain millers.
Under the new subsidy scheme, maize is sold at market prices, but the subsidy is paid to millers who have to prove that the roller meal has been milled and delivered.
Weekly allocations of GMB maize to millers could not be obtained yesterday.
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce said it had received an overwhelming response from millers following the call by the Government for expressions of interest to participate in the grain subsidy programme.
“The companies which submitted their expressions of interest and qualified in terms of the publicised criteria are now receiving their grain allocation from GMB,” said the ministry.
As roller meal becomes difficult to find or is diverted at high prices to the black market, families are buying whole-grain maize for grinding or are buying small grains.
Mr Obey Sarupindi, a grain trader at Mbare Musika, yesterday said there has been a spike in demand for maize owing to maize-meal shortages and because it was cheaper for people to buy maize than to buy maize-meal.
“Selling maize is now brisk business,” he said. “Today l sold 120 buckets at $110 per bucket and this is cash only. So people are finding it cheaper to buy a bucket at this price than to buy a packed 10kg maize-meal pack at $85.”
Mr Sarupindi said some customers were demanding large quantities of maize so that they proceed to mill and package the maize-meal into bags for resale.
Another trader, Mr Tinei Mhurwa, said getting maize was becoming difficult due to high demand, and he was now getting it from as far as Dande in Mashonaland Central Province.
Mr Mhurwa also sells small grains, whose demand has increased in recent weeks.
A bucket of finger millet is going for $130, while millet is priced at $150, with a bucket of sorghum pegged at $180.
Our Midlands Bureau Correspondent, Freedom Mupanedemo, reports that there has been an acute shortage of roller meal in the province, with consumers now relying on imported maize-meal sold on the black market.
A survey conducted yesterday established that Gweru and Kwekwe shops did not have roller meal in stock.
“We don’t have mealie meal, our supplier is saying they were yet to get any maize from the GMB, so we don’t have any in stock,” said a manager at OK Zimbabwe’s Kwekwe branch.
Mrs Laina Shoko from Mbizo 16, Kwekwe, said they were buying maize meal on the black market where a 10kg bag costs $120 cash.
Black market traders in Gweru are selling imported 10kg maize- meal for US$8.