By Adams Sinyama (Journalist)
Government’s decision to export maize through the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) will boast the country’s revenue through Forex. This shows that there is a huge business potential in the maize and mealie meal export.
The Government can extend the olive branch to ordinary citizens who are into cross-Border trade. Instead of Maize the traders can be allowed to trade in mealie meal at a controlled pace.
Speaking from experience, Mealie Meal export into neighbouring Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will lessen the country’s unemployment burden as it has the capacity to economically benefit the youths.
The illegal export of mealie meal by Cross-Border Traders shows the huge business potential that can benefit both the country and the entrepreneurs if legalized.
Here’s a diary of a self-confessed illegal mealie meal cross border trader.
OCTOBER 23, 2015-I re-read my termination letter; look at my 7 months pregnant wife immediately I tell myself, I have to get started again, no need to cry over spelt milk life must move on after all.
But Livingstone is not the best place for job seekers as most companies and organizations only maintain office branches in the town with the main offices in Lusaka.
The scarcity of job opportunities here gives rise to workers’ exploitation as most of the young people who are lucky enough to have a job endure slavery wages and poor working conditions.
As I try to move around the industrial parks in the morning hoping to assess the employment situation. Queues of youths waiting in anticipation to be engaged for a day’s piece job are what I see.
On average you would be given partly a K20 per day if you chance and that’s what they are scrambling for.
My case is even worse as you may know Lusaka happens to be the only place where a Journalist stands a better chance to find a job easily.
So! What next?
I think it is time to try out something else after all many professionals in this era of unemployment especially in Livingstone have packed their papers and are now trading in the market.
Wait a minute I think we are getting somewhere; I still have a soft copy of the Radio documentary I produced on Cross-Border Trade. Moreover from the list of the sources I am still having contacts for some people who trek to the neighboring Zimbabwe on bicycles each morning.
As I was carrying out research on this story I remember coming across the Simplified Trade Regime(STR)agreement signed by Zambia,Malawi,Tanzania,and Zimbabwe in an effort to improve bilateral trade among Common Market for East and Southern Africa(COMESA)countries.
Goods worth US$2000 on the list of items originating from COMESA member countries who are signatory to the STR agreement of 2010 are allowed to cross borders duty free.
DECEMBER 03,2015-By now the complexion of my phonebook has changed from more News sources, to would be colleagues, traders. 32 years old Peter Mupango of Dambwa Central, who treks into Zimbabwe every morning by bicycle carrying mealie meal, maize grain, and shoes while is bringing into Livingstone containers of Fruit Drinks and cases of Sugar.
I recall Peter mentioning to me that Mealie Meal sells like hit cake across the border while conducting interviews for the Documentary.
I know that it is lobbying our country a lot of income but I have no option as for now.
Little did I know that scruffy as Peter looks, our friendship is to grow overtime and he is to be my mentor some day perhaps a reason not to underestimate anyone in life. In fact I am amazed Peter is actually an accountant, a ZICA Licentiate for that matter who has simply given up anything to do with job seeking.
Visit to his home speaks volume as to why he does not even bother about searching for employment…He boasts of K8, 000 Profit a month from the business.
“Through the same business I managed to build this house and a flat in Libuyu.That Canter (Light Canter Truck) is also mine but apparently its down it has a problem with suspension,”he says.
With no trace of doubt I believe I have found the new survival skill through cross-Border trade.
DECEMBER 16, 2015– As Christmas is approaching business is usually best and so It is time for action Peter and I are in the company of four other cyclists passing through the Musi-o-Tunya National Park loitered by elephants, baboons and Buffaloes in the vicinity as we head to Tunduma, Zimbabwe via the Victoria Falls border laden with bags of Mealie Meal and Maize grain covered by heads cabbage and crates of tomatoes.
Mine was to wait and see as we eventually stop about 200 meters before the Border and divide into two groups.
Three of our colleagues headed an opposite direction towards Songwe Village to the gorges as we remained and waited for some Truck heading into Zimbabwe.
I realize later that the colleagues heading to Songwe gorge are to use the canoes to smuggle the mealie meal into Zimbabwe while we load some bags of mealie meal and crates of vegetables onto the truck.
Before the ban on Mealie meal export the demand for the commodity in Zimbabwe was minimal but after the Government stopped the export the demand has gone high and this has provided fertile ground for the act.
At this point am thinking what if the news break out that a Journalist is among the people nabbed for this illegal act. But Peter is a wizard at the business.
“In this business you need to be sharp make friends at the Border but don’t be too soft once we are across (Zimbabwe) some chaps there are unruly it is not like Livingstone,” he coaches me.
Brown Sugar, Bar Soap, Margarine and Fruity Drinks are very cheap in Zimbabwe for example a 5 litres Container of Fruity Drink cost $1.3 which is approximately K13 and in Livingstone sells at K20 posting a K7 profit. In places like Choma and Mazabuka the profit is more than 100 per cent.
Within an hours business is done and we are back to Livingstone each with a bicycle loaded mainly with 5 litre containers of Fruit Juice, and Baby Porridge.
Several months down the line its business as usual and I can now afford a smile.
JANUARY 17, 2017-It is true not all days are Sundays. Neither Peter nor I understand the misfortune that has befallen us this time around.
Firstly his bicycle has broken down in the middle of the Game Park few metres away a lone elephant is standing near the Maramba river stream barely 50 meters away. Both of us where frightened and do not know what next and I was running out of breath. The wounded Jumbo is facing the river but should it make a turn and face our direction we are gone.
Fortunate enough a Good Samaritan, Mr Malumo, driving a Prado AJC 5073 heading to Livingstone comes to our rescue. In instances like that elephants can be dangerous but thank God we survived.
Still nursing memories of the elephant terror, another misfortune this time we are at the other side of the law.
3 of our colleagues who somehow managed to get their bags of Mealie meal into Zimbabwe have however been nabbed at the Songwe Gorge while trying to smuggle Sugar from that country into Zambia after a directive from the Zambian Government not to allow sugar from outside. The temptation is due to the fact that Brown Sugar from Zimbabwe is susceptible to the act because it is cheap and many households in Livingstone prefer it.
Our case was the opposite.
As if there was a Judah Iscariot among us, a truck carrying our bags of mealie meal and maize grain has been impounded despite the banned commodities being concealed in between crates of cabbages and bags of charcoal as always.
“Mina machocho (you Smugglers)these are your bags deny it,” one of the Zimbabwean Customs Authority officers asked us.
Maize deals would only be done on Government to Government basis so directed by Government few days ago.
At the same time the Media was full of stories around the K34.5million Maize gate issue.
As the issue got so serious we where detained for 2 days and had our stock seized but thanks that Zambia and Zimbabwe happen to be fraternal Siamese twins conjoined by the cheering and ululating waters of the Zambezi River in the name of the Victoria Falls hence the brotherly atmosphere between the two countries so we where later released.
This has to be the best time to quit and confess after all what it shall benefit a man to hoard and smuggle the mealie meal across the border at an expense of 13 million brothers and sisters who have to buy the commodity at a higher price.
Only a novel can comprehend what I have seen in the last two years I have been in this trade but from the experience mealie meal and Maize export can economically empower the majority young people who suffer the consequences of unemployment as while as contribute significant Forex to the country’s revenue base once it is legalized.