Govt hints at Maize imports

Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has hinted that it will import maize if traders continue hoarding the grain to demand a higher price.

In a telephone interview yesterday, the ministry’s Principal Secretary Grey Nyandule Phiri said the local traders have been given ample time to offer their maize for sale to State produce trader Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc).

He said: “We gave [the traders] almost two weeks to supply. If we don’t see anything [relating to paperwork], we will go for importation and we have also already identified suppliers.”

A maize trader selling the grain

Nyandule Phiri was apparently referring to a statement from his ministry issued earlier this month which invited the traders to sell their grain between November 7 and 25 at a revised price of K250/kilogramme (kg) from the initial K230/kg.

Although he said they will know the status by the end of the two-week period, he indicated that potential foreign suppliers have been identified.

Grain Traders Association and Processors chairperson Grace Mhango yesterday said she supports the revised maize price of K250/kg, but noted that the traders were playing mind games.

Spot checks by The Nation at the weekend in parts of Blantyre, Mulanje, Phalombe, Chiradzulu, Thyolo, Chikwawa and Machinga, among others, indicated that maize prices are ranging from K15 000 to K17 500 per 50kg bag with traders in markets charging between K300 and K350 per kg.

This means if traders sell to Admarc, they will fetch K12 500 for a 50 kg bag.

Initially, the minimum maize price was pegged at K150/kg. However, the price was revised to K200/kg in August before a further revision to K230/kg in October and the current K250/kg effected this month.

Currently, the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA), which manages the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR), has in stock only 25 000 metric tonnes (MT).

This is against the projection that NFRA, by now, should have had 217 000MT comprising 95 000MT buffer stock, 8 000MT emergency stock, 76 000MT safety net stock for non-emergency response and 38 000MT stabilisation stock.

From the allocated K10 billion for maize purchases for the SGR, Treasury has released K1 billion and NFRA is yet to start procuring the staple grain while Admarc had K2.5 billion and is struggling to buy.

In an earlier interview, agriculture analyst Tamani Nkhono-Mvula, said the absence of maize in the two institutions will mean food insecurity for most households.

He said: “These institutions are supposed to play the role of stabilising the market when maize prices are above what consumers can afford.”

Maize is an important crop to the country, and as part of food, contributes about 45.2 percent to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), an aggregate basket for computing inflation.

Maize production, which accounts for the bulk of the country’s cereal output, is estimated at about 3.4 million tonnes in 2019, making a rebound from the reduced output of 2018. At this level, the maize harvest is 10 percent above the average of the previous five years. The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee analysis conducted between June and July 2019, showed that about 1.1 million people will face food insecurity as the country enters the lean period from October 2019 to March 2020.

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