Maputo / MZ. (aa) Mozambican authorities are withholding 36.000 tonnes of wheat destined for Zimbabwe pending payment of 15 million USD owed by the government for the grain. Government and milling industry sources have disclosed that the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), the country´s grain monopoly, was unable to pay for the release of the wheat stocks, which docked at the Mozambican port city of Beira two months ago, reports AllAfrica.
A commodity company identified as Holbud sourced the wheat from Argentina, a major grain supplier to Zimbabwe. The Mozambicans are demanding cash upfront in foreign currency before the wheat, which could ease the worsening bread shortages, can be released. Millers said the delays in releasing the wheat would worsen the bread crisis, which deteriorated sharply since government ordered bakers to slash prices to June 18 levels. Bakers say existing flour stocks have reached critical levels, and any further delays in the arrival of fresh wheat supplies would result in more bakery closures.
Government has admitted that this year´s wheat harvest could be the worst since Independence in 1980. Wheat output is projected to fall significantly below the 85.000 tonnes harvested last year, far short of annual domestic consumption of 400.000 tonnes. Government blames the expected poor yield on power utility ZESA, whose erratic power supplies have disrupted irrigation. Millers say the projected harvest will be less than a quarter of the country’s annual requirements.
«Unless urgent steps are taken to avail foreign currency to secure more wheat, the country is heading for a huge food crisis, particularly so given that most supermarket shelves have already been emptied of alternative foodstuffs. This food crisis is expected to spill well into next year until the next harvest», said one miller, asking not to be named.
GMB acting chief executive officer Samuel Muvuti could not be reached for comment. This is not the first time that the government has failed to pay for imports at neighbouring ports. The government has previously failed to pay for maize, wheat and fuel imports at Mozambican and South African ports (Source).