Maize flour price doubles as govt says No to controls

Consumers have to dig deeper now into their pockets for maize flour as the price of Tanzania’s staple has gone up by 79 per cent within a month.

A survey conducted over the past two weeks by The Citizen with focus on cereals at markets and mills in Dar es Salaam reveals that some traders have run out of stock and saying they cannot replenish since farmers sell their produce at very high prices.

A 1kg of maize is selling at 700/-, up from the average price of 400/- the cereal was commanding late last month in many markets in the city. Retail prices had stood at between 800/- and 1000/- per kg during the same period around the city.

Blaming the price rise to a surge in export of grains, traders called on the government to restrict cross-border trade to save local consumers, but officials at the ministry of Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives say the grains trade liberalisation is here to stay to enable farmers to get the best prices for their produce.

Some of the millers stopped production effective last week, claiming that they could not afford the price of maize.

Mr Severin Thomas, a miller at Manzese, said to continue purchasing maize at the prevailing prices, which until Tuesday this week stood at 715/-, he would not make any profit given that he has to incur other costs before he takes flour to the consumer.

He added that he stopped buying maize on the hope that prices would soon come down, but it dawned on his that farmer swere determined to sell high. He said in the past, maize shortage and price rise were felt from March, but this year it has come as early as November.

“Today, I closed my milling machines because there I don’t have maize in my stores. It isn’t that there wasn’t maize in the market; it was there, but the price is prohibitive. Last month kilo of maize was selling at between 400/- and 500/-; today it wholesaled at 715/-,” noted Mr Thomas.

On the other hand, some traders alleged that the government has been reluctant to resolve issues that escalate the cost of cereals. The meeting was told the government must be aware that Kenyan traders have been going directly to farmers, sourcing grains and secretly ferry them to their country.

 “The government is just sitting on the fence ordinary people suffer; traders are better off because at the end of the day, it is the final consumer who endures the brunt of high food prices,” said a resident here who didn’t divulge his name.

An official with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives, Mr Richard Kasuga, said traders need not to complain that Kenyans are smuggling maize just because they offer Tanzanian farmers better prices.

Local dealers should not expect the government to intervene because even if their concerns were valid, it would be wrong to proscribe the Kenyans because the days of protectionism are gone, more so when the exporters comply with the country’s regulations.

“People are too much used to government protection; that it will always get involved over such  trends but this time things are different. 

"People are now free to sell their produce to whoever they want and earn more money and we cannot put restrictions so long as people do business without breaking the law,” said Mr Kasuga.

“Everything is selling high today and farm produce can’t be an exception…  There won’t be agricultural development if farmers continue selling at prices that don’t cover their operational costs,” said Mr Kasuga.
Source: The Citizen, http://www.thecitizen.co.tz, reported by Fariji Msonsa in Dar es Salaam

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