Zimbabwe's milling industry has hit turbulent times, amid revelations that some companies have suspended operations after a flood of cheap imported mealie-meal pushed them to the brink, it has been revealed.
The glut of imports, mostly from South African suppliers, has continued even after government announced a ban on foreign shipments recently to protect domestic millers.
Announcing the ban, government also said Zimbabwe had produced enough maize for the domestic market during the 2020/2021 agricultural season.
The estimated maize output for this season stands at 2,7 million tonnes, which is 199% ahead of last season's production.
Millers told journalists in Bulawayo on Friday that they were still feeling the heat as imports continued and the performance of the industry had been affected.
"We can't sell mealie-meal at the moment because there are cheap imports coming from South Africa. Imports are coming each and every day," Blue Ram CEO Masimba Dzomba, said during a tour of milling facilities organised by the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ).
"Some of the imports are not coming through the borders, but through illegal points and they don't pay duty.
"This is why they are cheap.
"Now we are not buying maize from the Grain Marketing Board because mealie-meal is not moving (in retail shops) because of cheap imports."
A survey conducted by Standardbusiness in Bulawayo revealed that maize meal imports were flooding informal markets and a few formal supermarkets, as the informal sector continues to dominate Zimbabwe's economy.
Sharon Maingehama, an official from Rasesh Milling Company said: "Our sales have been greatly affected by mealie-meal coming from South Africa and Botswana.
"We can't even make meaningful sales.
"Raw materials are there, but it is difficult for us to mill and sell as we have excessive stock.
"Workers are now doing two weeks in two weeks out due to low sales."
Mathokozisa Milling Company manager Misheck Chauke said the firm used to mill more than 200 tonnes of maize mill per month, but due to imports, output had plummeted to less than 100 tonnes.
"Our production has gone down by more than 100%," Chauke said.
"We have also reduced our workforce by more than half and we are left with a handful of workers to keep us going.
"We sell a 10kg bag roller mealie-meal for about $450, but the imported mealie-meal is selling at US$3,50 to US$3,80 per bag.
"It's a really sad development."
He pleaded with the government to reduce the price of maize and clamp down on imports "as this year we have a bumper harvest and I don't think we need imports for now."
GMAZ southern region chairman David Moyo said government must enforce the import ban.
"We were hoping that by this time millers would be able to satisfy the markets since we had a bumper harvest, but retailers are refusing to take our mealie-meal saying it is too expensive compared to imports," Moyo said.
"We know that the government has put in place a statutory instrument, which banned grain imports but we are wondering why we are still experiencing this flood from neighbouring countries.
"We think there are some underhand dealings at the borders. If it wasn't for that the mealie-meal would not come in."
He said during a tour of milling firms last week, he found that some of them had "closed but there were heaps and heaps of mealie-meal."
"The workers have been placed on forced leave just because if the miller keeps them, how are they going to pay them (with reduced operations)?
"Imported products from South Africa are cheaper than the raw material from GMB," he said.
The southern region, which covers Bulawayo, Masvingo and Midlands provinces, has 45 milling companies employing more than 1 000 workers.
Efforts to get a comment from the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement were fruitless.