Mealie-meal smuggling threat to food security
THE rate at which goods, on the Copperbelt, especially maize and mealie-meal are finding their way into neighbouring countries has become a source of utmost concern to many Zambians.
Recently, the public in general bemoaned the way smuggling activities in the border towns have intensified, forcing them to appeal to the powers that be to control the situation.
Law enforcers have been working frantically in a bid to curb the scourge, but smugglers seem not to be concerned as they have continued with the illegal business which is benefitting them more but disadvantaging the locals.
Inspector-General of police, Stella Libongani complained in Ndola recently that there was need to beef up manpower on the borders such as in Chililabombwe and Chingola where she said the borderlines were very porous and smugglers found it easy to use the many routes to smuggle the mealie-meal.
“We have very porous borders which need to be beefed up with manpower where we can. We also appeal to members of the public who know the culprits involved in smuggling to assist the police in curbing this problem,” said Ms Libongani.
In November last year, Republican Vice-President, Guy Scott expressed concern at the high levels of smuggling of maize and mealie-meal, especially at Kasumbalesa Border Post and urged Zambians living in border towns to be vigilant and ensure that subsidised maize and mealie-meal were not smuggled to other countries.
The earnest appeal came in the wake of rampant smuggling of the commodities in many border towns around the country which triggered an outcry from consumers in the affected areas.
Although efforts to curb the smuggling of mealie-meal have been intensified, the problem has steadily been increasing with several truckloads laden with the commodity ferrying the contraband towards the border towns of Kasumbalesa in Chililabombwe and Sakanya in Ndola, certainly destined for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
This trend has been ongoing for some time now until recently when Zambian citizens expressed concern at the large number of subsidised mealie-meal and maize leaving the country in this form of trade.
During an on-the-spot check at Kasumbalesa Border Post, Dr Scott said the country was losing a lot of revenue through the illegal trading of goods, especially mealie-meal.
“We are losing a lot of revenue through smuggling because we are subsidising the price of maize and now it appears we are subsidising for smugglers,” Dr Scott complained.
This was after Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) Kasumbalesa station manager, Levy Simatimbe reported to Dr Scott about the alarming proportions of smuggling at the border post.
Mr Simatimbe said there was a lot of smuggling at the border with more than 2,000 bags of mealie-meal being smuggled on a daily basis.
In the past few weeks, Zambia Police has impounded a number of trucks laden with several bags of mealie-meal.
Despite the impounding of trucks and the confiscations of mealie-meal, the scourge has persisted causing a shortage of the commodity in many parts of the Copperbelt.
Apart from trucks ferrying several bags of mealie-meal, smugglers using footpaths have been crossing the borders with bags of mealie-meal on their heads, while many others were using bicycles which carry 10 to 15 x25 kilogramme bags of mealie-meal daily.
Residents in Sakania revealed that a bag of 25kilogramme breakfast mealie -meal costs between KR 150 (K150, 000) and KR175 (K175, 000) in DRC.
Mr Matimbe also said the borderline at Kasumbalesa was porous and caused a big challenge to the ZRA officials in the area.
“It is difficult to monitor how people were buying mealie-meal from Zambia. Instead of trading at the border area, business people should trade at the town centre as they would be checked at the police check point on the number of bags that they wanted to export,” suggested Mr Simatimbe.
He, however, pointed out that it was only Olympic Milling that had the permit to export mealie-meal while others were doing so illegally.
As the smuggling of mealie-meal escalated on the Copperbelt, the Patriotic Front (PF) leadership comprising the provincial chairperson Robert Mwewa, Ndola District chairperson George Chisulo and the Ndola District Commissioner Rebby Chanda organised themselves to help the police and the general public to quell the problem which had become a thorn in the flesh of many residents.
Mr Chanda explained that the shortage of mealie-meal on the Copperbelt was not real as it was caused by a few disgruntled people who wanted to reap where they did not sow at the expense of many Zambians by smuggling the commodity for a profit.
“It is tricky. If you go to millers, you will find that production and distribution are normal but the mealie-meal is not being delivered, especially in townships. This shortage of mealie-meal is being caused by some greedy people who want to make a fast buck. We are fighting to bring this to an end. The PF leadership in Ndola has intensified patrols and they are interacting so well. The general public is also alert. I appeal to ward leaders regardless of which party they are affiliated to and churches to come on board and fight this problem together,” said Mr Chanda.
He hinted that the shortage of mealie-meal was significant in townships, while in the central district, the situation was normal.
Ndola District PF chairperson, Mr Chisulo said as reports of smuggling of mealie-meal were escalating in Sakanya, the leaders sent PF party security to investigate the problem and it was discovered that mealie-meal was being smuggled through Sakanya border almost at will.
Mr Chisulo said when the party sent its security to Pima farming area in Kaniki, about 30kilometres away from DRC, villagers showed them routes which smugglers use to take the mealie-meal to Congo.
The villagers said some police officers were allowing smugglers by charging them KR10 per bag to cross the border using the footpaths in Pima.
When the party security intercepted the smugglers recently, they alerted the leaders. And Mr Chanda and Mr Chisulo asked for the police to escort them to Pima where they found 25kilogramme bags of breakfast mealie-meal abandoned after the smugglers ran away to avoid being apprehended.
“Smugglers use these footpaths. Others carry the mealie-meal on their heads, while others use bicycles. One bicycle carries about 15x25kilogramme bags of mealie-meal and there are so many bicycles. How many bags are smuggled using this means everyday?,” wondered Mr Chisulo.
He explained that when the PF security got to Sakanya, they intercepted two trucks, one of which was laden with 350x25kilogramme bags of mealie-meal. At one of the shops, they found 126x25kilogramme bags of mealie- meal and 337x50kilogramme bags of top grade maize to be smuggled to DRC.
“This is the scenario everyday. How do you allow a situation like this to happen when Zambians are suffering? This cannot be accepted. We have a duty to protect our people and those involved in this smuggling will be brought to book once found. We are working hand-in-hand with the police to curb this scourge,” said Mr Chisulo.
At the beginning of this month, Government ordered immigration officers to curb the rampant smuggling of mealie-meal into neighbouring countries.
Home Affairs Deputy Minister, Steven Kampyongo said the immigration officers manning border posts should ensure that no mealie-meal is smuggled into DRC.
Mr Kampyongo said during an on-the-spot check to verify the rampant smuggling of mealie-meal into DRC that the officers must be alert and work with police to ensure that smuggling activities were curbed.
“We cannot allow a situation where mealie-meal is being smuggled into the neighbouring countries at the expense of Zambians. Criminals are clever and innovative, so we must take charge and be alert to curb such activities. We have the potential to distribute food to other countries but not through smuggling and anyone involved in such activities must be brought to book and the law should take its course,” said Mr Kampyongo.
He was echoed by his counterpart, Alfridah Kansembe who said it was Government’s responsibility to ensure that there was food security in Zambia adding that there was need for all citizens to be patriotic and work with Government to curb smuggling.
“Every year, Government was subsidising farming inputs such as fertiliser to ensure that farmers produced enough food and it was unfortunate that selfish individuals could resort to smuggling of mealie-meal,” Ms Kansembe complained.
Earlier, Deputy Agriculture Minister Rodgers Mwewa said increased smuggling of agricultural commodities had negatively affected the country’s tax base.
He said of late, the country had seen a rise in smuggling of agricultural commodities – a situation posing serious threats to the food security of the country.
Mr Mwewa said in as much as Zambia was an active member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) where trading was free, smuggling should not be encouraged as it was reducing the tax base of member states.
“You can agree with me that in the COMESA region, free trading is allowed to an extent, but this smuggling is posing some negativities on the economies not just for Zambia but for all member states,” said Ms Mwewa.
Commerce, Trade and Industry Deputy Minister, Keith Mukata added his voice to the concerns expressed about problem of smuggling and said this is a huge problem the country is currently grappling with.
Mr Mukata said in Lusaka that inward and outward smuggling of goods was a huge problem in the country and that if left unchecked, it had the potential of killing local industry.
“As Government we will not let it go unhindered. The Government is not against importation of goods, but that it was concerned when such transactions were done without paying taxes, thereby negatively affecting the country’s revenue collection.
Indeed, smuggling, especially of mealie-meal which is highly subsidised, needs to be tackled quickly before the Government loses more revenue.
A lasting solution needs to be found to resolve the problem once and for all.