The National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) says it has 150 000 metric tonnes of maize which the civil society describes as Ã¢â‚¬Å“too littleÃ¢â‚¬Â for the peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s current needs in Malawi.
NFRA CEO Nasinuku Saukira disclosed the figure in a telephone interview with Weekend Nation last week, but refused to comment on what the stockÃ¢â‚¬â€which is against the total capacity of 240 000 metric tonnes of all silos in MalawiÃ¢â‚¬â€means to the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s food security.
But Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) has argued the stock may be “too little” considering that there are already 201 000 people in the Southern Region in need of immediate food relief between December 2011 and March 2012, coupled with the recent erratic rains that may increase the demand for food relief.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security Erica Maganga, however, said the maize in the silos is sufficient as it is for strategic reserves and can only be released when things are out of hand.
“Admarc has maize. There are a lot of traders selling the maize. There are NGOs whose presence is to distribute relief maize,” said Maganga.
Admarc last month increased its maize price by 50 percent, thus selling a 50 kg bag at K3 000 ($18) from K2 000 ($12).
Prices on the parallel market have gone as high as K5 000 ($30) in some places like Mpingu in MalawiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capital, Lilongwe.
Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said this week government could not stop Admarc from increasing the price because it is a profit-making company.
National coordinator of Cisanet, Tamani Nkhono, said on Tuesday that the common man in the village will struggle to get maize due to the high and uncontrolled prices.
Nkhono said [while] Admarc is justified to increase the maize price in response to demand, it is governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s responsibility to ensure there is a lot of maize on the market to lower the prices.
Said Nkhono: “NFRA was established to make sure prices of maize are not going up. In other words, when there is no maize in Admarc, government has to release that maize from NFRA to Admarc so that private traders should not increase their prices.
“But if you do not have the maize in grain reserves it means that government will not be able to put the maize on the market to reduce the prices.”
He said the recent government ban on maize exports will worsen the hunger in the country because private traders will be forced to make profits locally.
Said Nkhono: “The maize export ban may help but the maize which is there is for private traders. In other words, government is acknowledging that there is maize in the country but it is with private traders.
“With the export ban, the private trader will be forced to make the profit here in Malawi and you know what that means. We are looking at the common man in the village. Will he or she be able to buy the maize even if it is available?”
He said with the little maize in the silos many people in the country will go hungry as they will not be able to buy the commodity from private traders because of the soaring prices.
Nkhono faulted government for delaying to buy maize from people, giving advantage to private traders to get most of the commodity.
Asked to comment on whether 150 000 metric tonnes in the silos are enough to take the country to the next season, chairperson for Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee of ParliamentÃ‚Â Dr. Allan Chiyembekeza said: “I think you can do your arithmetic and be able to come up with an analysis. When we travel around [as a committee] and verify those figures, we will definitely make the information available to you.
“But I share the sentiments you have [that the maize in the silos is little] but I would rather request you to wait till we travel.”
In radio phone-in programmes this week, most callers complained about the rising prices of maize.
Chief Tengani of Nsanje was quoted by one radio as having said that maize has gone up to K4 000 ($24) in Nsanje. Another caller said maize at Mpingu Trading Centre in Lilongwe on the Lilongwe-Mchinji Road is now selling at K5 000 per bag.
The callers wondered if government does have maize at all and asked for its intervention to control the prices.
President Bingu wa Mutharika last week called on Malawians to use their maize carefully, saying the erratic rainfall the country is receiving may result in hunger.
Fewsnet, an organisation that predicts and respond to famines and other forms of food security said in November last year, its humanitarian response committee approved a request from government for humanitarian food assistance intervention in southern Malawi in line with findings of the MVAC [the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee] report of June 2011 (released in September 2011).
Reads the report on Fewsnet website: “All 4 824 MTs [metric tonnes] will be made available for the humanitarian response and will cover all the food needs of the 201 000 people identified by the MVAC. The government will cover the costs of replenishing maize grain that will be drawn down from government maize grain silos while WFP will cover the costs of delivering and distributing the maize grain to the beneficiaries.
“The government is expected to approach other donors to leverage funds for purchasing pulses and cooking oil in order to diversify the food made available for assistance.”
The most affected districts are Nsanje, Chikhwawa, Phalombe, Balaka and Zomba.
In 2011, Malawi sold about 300 metric tonnes of maize to South Sudan and donated about 30 metric tonnes to that country, according to Sudan Catholic Radio Network.
Malawi has been donating and selling maize to some countries in need, including cash-trapped Zimbabwe, which is yet to pay the debt.