ANY person who has studied economics or has been a follower of economics will be familiar with the term: Hog Cycle.
But it is in the interest of every Zambian that this phenomenon which relates to the law of supply and demand is understood by all those that are involved in the debate over our staple food; mealie meal.
According to Wikipedia the free encyclopedia, “in economics, the term pork cycle, hog cycle, or cattle cycle describes the phenomenon of cyclical fluctuations of supply and prices in livestock markets.
“It was first observed in 1925 in pig markets in the US by Mordecai Ezekiel and in Europe in 1927 by the German scholar Arthur Hanau.”
When the market becomes saturated, prices decline and when production is reduced, the prices will rise correspondingly. This model has also been applied in certain labour sectors: high salaries will lead to an increase in the number of students pursuing studies in a particular sector. When these students enter the job market, they create a surplus which leads to declining salaries in that sector.
This is the same story of Zambian mealie meal prices over the years. I was just reminded by P K Chishala’s song We Mufyashi Wewatufyala Niwe Trade Union (Trade Union you are our parent) sang in the late 1980s. Someone posted the song on WhatsApp last week and the song went viral.
P K Chishala was complaining about the price of mealie meal at the time.
Perhaps Zambians who are old enough will also remember that the first post-independence riots in Zambia in 1991 were over the price of mealie meal.
They may also remember that the government used to distribute mealie meal coupons to cushion consumers from the high prices of the staple food in relation to the salaries that obtained at the time.
During the MMD era, the same problem of rising mealie meal prices occurred in the country and the government intervened by allowing neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo traders to come into the country with their dollars and buy the mealie meal legally. Smuggling immediately stopped.
It is in my opinion very important that we take all these historical events into account as we debate the problem of rising prices of mealie meal and its raw material: maize.
As they say, there are several ways of killing a cat; and there must be several ways of dealing with the prices of mealie meal.
The first solution of course is increased productivity.
Zambians must produce more; not just maize but other food crops such as rice, potatoes, sorghum, millet, cassava etc.
Our dependence on food processed by millers and distributed by retailers who are free to charge prices in response to the hog cycle puts consumers at great risk of exploitation in years of low commercial output of the staple food.
Someone must also tell our consumers that they should look at sources of their staple food. If the millers and retailers become too expensive, why not challenge them by buying your own maize and going to a chigayo to grind the maize.
I am not telling a lie when I say that I eat mealie meal from the chigayo!
There is also the issue of using alternative sources of carbohydrates. Households must consider other foods such as rice, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, cassava, and so on.
Of course the rising price of staple foods all over the world provides opportunity to politicians to cheat the people and gain popularity.
Zambians ought to be very careful, those that are cheating you that they will bring prices down if they get into power are not telling the truth.
If they say they will bring the prices down, what will they do with price of maize.
Will they force farmers to sell maize and prices below the cost of production? Big lie.
We need a deeper and level headed debate to overcome the challenge of the hog cycle over our staple food.