Ministry of Agriculture Lobin Lowe has assured the nation of food availability and dispelled fears that some Malawians will face hunger.
Speaking during a press conference in Lilongwe yesterday, the minister said the updated national Food Balance Sheet up to December 31 2021 shows that the country has 1.6 million metric tonnes (MT) of maize while the total maize requirement for the three months (January to March 2022) is projected at 861 868 MT.
Lowe said the situation leaves the country with a total domestic cereal surplus of 915 998 MT and that out of the projected surplus, about 767 129 MT is maize.
He said: “From the food balance sheet projection, the country remains stable in terms of maize availability.
“This is further supported by the prevailing market prices which have remained stable during the past three months and even as the country is in the lean period during which so far Admarc sales stand at only 37 MT since opening their selling season.”
A latest Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) report shows that between January and March 2022, 1.6 million people in Malawi, about 9 percent of the total population, will face acute food shortage and need immediate assistance.
However, Lowe said out of the estimated maize surplus, official maize stocks held by government institutions such as National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) and Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) stood at 265 253 MT as of December 31 2021.
Ministry of Agriculture Principal Secretary Sandram Maweru said out of the 265 253 MT, 228 MT is in the custody of Admarc, some of which the institution bought on behalf of NFRA and this leaves NFRA with 37 253 MT.
He said NFRA has 20 000 MT after distributing 17 000MT as humanitarian assistance to hunger affected citizens.
Asked why Admarc was not depositing the maize with NFRA for the strategic reserves, Admarc general manager Rhino Chiphiko said they are keeping the maize in their 385 markets across the country for easy access by customers.
Maweru said: “We decided to keep the maize in our markets for easy consumer access and to cut on costs of transporting maize from centralised storage to where it is needed.
“Once we sell this maize, that is when we will bring the remaining quantities to NFRA for storage as per the government’s directive.”
Government allocated K12 billion to Admarc in the current financial year and allowed it to further borrow funds from commercial banks to buy maize for its markets as well as to buy on behalf of NFRA for storage.
But when it was put to him that government was politically interfering with Admarc’s operations by issuing directives that may be costly, including hampering NFRA mandate, Lowe said government’s actions are in the best interest of Malawians because maize is a strategic crop.
Lowe said government has even stopped Admarc from exporting 500 000 MT of maize which is currently demanded in the African region to ensure the country is food-secure first before feeding other nations.
The third-round agriculture production estimates results estimated a 21 percent increase in maize production from 3.7 million MT in 2019/20 to 4.5 million MT in 2020/2021, owing to Affordable Input Programme success.