Government Should Ignore Calls To Ban Maize-Meal (Corn-Meal) Imports

This is the local staple food in Zimbabwe: sadza (maize meal) and a bit of vegetables and meat on the side. Millions of plates of the stuff are eaten everyday in Zimbabwe. Millers in the country are now crying that maize meal imported from South Africa, especially, is putting them out of business. They want tariffs and taxes imposed on the imports to protect them. Government should ignore this.

Harare, Zimbabwe, 10 January 2010

The Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe is calling on the Inclusive Government of Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe to impose tariffs on maize meal imported into Zimbabwe.

Currently, maize (corn, for my American readers) meal is imported free of duties into Zimbabwe and this has allegedly seen local millers struggling to sell their products.

I am not worried that government will give in because Tendai Biti appears to have his head screwed on right on this one. It would be counter-productive to start down that road and will only lead to more industries calling for bans on imports of things they produce in Zimbabwe.

Protectionism is not the way to go because it breeds bad service and bad products. It will only ensure that the local industries never meet world standards and that will make us globally uncompetitive. It would be a step backwards in the development of Zimbabwe.

The reason why local industries finds themselves in this position is that their products are failing to compete with imported products. The local products, normally of an inferior standard, are more expensive than the imported products.

Zimbabweans have been made to eat mealie-meal (sadza, it's called here) that tasted like cardboard because the local milling industries thought that they had a captive market that had to accept whatever they dished out. The days of glorious standards, when Blue Ribbon and other quality companies produced good meal are long gone. In their place, anyone who could buy a mill thought it was a license to print money.

The removal of taxes and duty on imports of maize meal put an end to that. People now had a choice. The millers want to take us back to the days of having no choice.

Should government listen to these calls (highly unlikely), I would be the first in line to launch a class action suit because this is a constitutional and human rights issue. We must have the freedom of choice. The millers and producers of local meal must shape up or ship out. It really is as simple as that.

The local companies should simply produce good quality meal at affordable prices. They surely can manage that. Or do they prefer the situation of having a captive market that they can charge exorbitant prices for inferior products?

For a product like maize meal, marketing a good quality one is not difficult. Zimbabweans will tell you that Zimbabwean sadza is the best, different to sadza from elsewhere in Africa. This is one product on which research has conclusively shown that the mentality that "imports are best" does not apply.

Local will always be lekker on maize meal and instead of opening a Pandora's Box of restrictions and protectionism, the millers must simply step up to the plate.



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