Zimbabwe: Millers hike price of maize-meal

HARARE - Zimbabwe millers have hiked the price of the country's main staple food, maize-meal, by more than 50 percent barely 48 hours after bakers increased the price of bread also by more than 50 percent, as the southern African country's economic troubles worsen.

Echoing the same reasons advanced by bakers when they hiked the price of bread last Saturday, a senior Millers Association of Zimbabwe (MAZ) official blamed the Tuesday price increases on spiralling costs of production especially the cost of packaging for grain which he said had gone up by 100 percent.

The official, who did not want to be named because he was not authorised by his association to discuss the matter, said a 92 percent salary increase recently awarded milling industry workers had also put immense pressure on milling firms, forcing them to hike prices in order to remain afloat.

"Packaging has gone up by 100 percent because of increases in imported raw materials while labour charges have increased by 92 percent," said the MAZ official.

A 10kg bag of economy grade maize-meal or roller meal, which previously retailed at Z$220 000 now sells for $385 000 while the same packet of super refined maize-meal is now priced at $585 000 up from $385 000.

The prices of maize-meal that are legally are controlled by the government were already many times more than state gazetted prices even before the latest hikes. For example, a 10kg bag of economy grade maize meal was officially marked at $181 000.

It was not possible last night to get an immediate reaction from the Ministry of Industry and Trade which must sanction increases in the price of maize-meal.

The hikes in prices of basic commodities such as maize-meal and bread is sure to spur on inflation in Zimbabwe, which is already the highest in the world at 1 184.6 percent.

The latest round of price increases in the price of staple foods also significantly comes at a time President Robert Mugabe's government claims food is abundant in Zimbabwe after a bumper harvest last season.

Data supplied by independent assessors however shows that Zimbabwe will again require assistance this year from international food agencies because it did not harvest enough food.

Zimbabwe, once a regional breadbasket, has suffered from severe food shortages since Mugabe disrupted the mainstay agriculture sector through his controversial seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks over the past six years.

But the black villagers resettled on former white farms have failed to maintain production because the government did not provide them with skills training and inputs support.