Government maize import monopoly challenged

The Zimbabwe government's monopoly on maize imports, long cited as one of the reasons why the country is battling to keep up with food needs, is being challenged by a private importer which claims its constitutional rights have been violated.

A World Food Programme cereal import progress report for mid-November recorded Zimbabwe's total uncovered cereal gap until the next harvest as 465,051 mt. But a government order issued last year has fixed the price of maize and given the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) sole distribution rights.

This was to protect consumers during shortages brought on by a drought and disruptions to commercial farming during the land reform programme.

In response, importer Frontline Marketing took the matter to the Supreme Court this week, arguing that the company's constitutional right to trade was being infringed.

"My client [Frontline Marketing] trades in commodities and wants the opportunity to trade in maize," the firm's lawyer, Linda Chitato, told IRIN on Wednesday.

The matter was heard by five judges, in accordance with challenges based on the constitution, and judgement was reserved, she said.

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change agriculture spokesman Renson Gasela said the GMB should allow anyone to import maize, to overcome the current shortages.

He conceded that prices of the unsubsidised commodity would increase, but "at least it would make it available."

He said that at the moment the government had allowed brewers to import maize, but this was on condition it was used to brew beer, and not resold.

"They should support anyone who wants to bring in maize," he told IRIN.