Flour imports hurt local producers

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s government is under pressure to halt flour importations from Asia since they are hurting wheat farmers and local production of the commodity.

This also comes as the National Bakers Association of Zimbabwe (NBAZ) has come under fire for allegedly supporting extended flour imports and abetting some “profiteering” bakers who continue selling their bread at a dollar on the back of cheaper imports.

“As a country, we have launched the $500 million command agriculture programme with a view to enhancing the production of staple grains such as maize, wheat and attendant issues to do with beneficiation. But I wonder if we are going to succeed with such contradictory policies as the continued importation of flour as it hurts the entire value chain of primary producers and millers as well,” said a source.

“While we understand that position is supported by the likes of NBAZ and specifically Givemore Mesoemvura’s leadership, one really feels this does not make economic sense and I wonder what the real motivation is — beyond what one could see or speculate as driven by personal gain, given that some importers allegedly pay a $350 fee for support letters,” they said.

The development also comes as parties such as the Grain Millers’ Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) have recently called on the Harare administration to add wheat flour to the list of banned goods under Statutory Instrument 64 in the upcoming national budget.

According to the milling lobby, their industry has shrunk from 368 millers in 2007 to 37 in 2016 due to an influx of grain imports, specifically maize meal and wheat flour from Mozambique, and South Africa.

However, Mesoemvura not only said NBAZ had stopped charging clients or members for supporting letters two years ago, but the “wheat importation issue had become more political with corporates crying more than the consumers”.

“We were the first ones to introduce quarter system in the value chain (by) signing a memorandum… with GMAZ to buy 75 percent (of) locally-produced wheat and 25 percent import to address quality issues,” he said, adding bakeries were “fully behind the revival of the local farming community”.

“The price of bread is determined by the market and not by bakeries. In some instances, some bakeries are selling… for as low as 65 cents… who then puts a mark-up,” Mesoemvura said in response to allegations some confectionery makers were making a killing on the back of imported flour.

While GMAZ president Tafadzwa Musarara could only confirm “they had received the complaints and which they were looking into”, his association has called on government to ban all “pre-packed flour packages under 10 kilogrammes in order to promote wheat farming in Zimbabwe and fortify the land reform”.

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