National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) yesterday started buying maize from local farmers following the revision of farmgate prices which the farmers complained were on the lower side.
NFRA board chairperson Dennis Kalekeni said in an interview yesterday the move was necessitated by an increase in farmgate prices from K220 to K300 per kilogramme (kg) of maize.
However, some stakeholders have expressed worry over NFRA’s delay in sourcing the maize from farmers, saying it is coming too late after the 2021/22 harvest season when most farmers have already sold their maize to private traders.
But Kalekeni dismissed the fears, saying so far the agency has signed contracts with 31 registered farmers’ cooperatives out of the targeted 185 cooperatives.
He said: “The delay was due to lack of agreement on the farmgate price which was set at K220 per kg.
“With devaluation and an increase in fuel prices, we had to understand farmer’s grievances on the minimum farmgate price. We had to negotiate with the government to review the prices, hence the delay.”
In a separate interview, Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) board chairperson Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi said the State produce trader was yet to start procuring maize as it was waiting for NFRA to finish buying the commodity.
“The government’s agent on this function is NFRA or Strategic Grain Reserves [SGRs]. Admarc is currently buying rice while NFRA is buying maize now and we will buy maize only after NFRA is done,” he said.
But Farmers Union of Malawi president Frighton Njolomole has accused government of lacking commitment to ensuring that smallholder farmers have access to a ready market through NFRA and Admarc.
He said as farmers, they always expect government to come on the market at the time of harvest as per President Lazarus Chakwera’s commitment.
Said Njolomole: “This year, we have heard that government has planned to buy maize through NFRA at a time when we are almost approaching the 2022-23 growing season.
“NFRA delivery points for maize are also far from most smallholder farmers, this will result in farmers benefiting less due to transport costs.”
He has since called on government to ensure that NFRA and Admarc play their role timely.
Meanwhile, agriculture policy expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula has described as worrisome the delay by the two entities in procuring the maize from farmers.
He said NFRA is there to buy maize for relief consumption and SGRs, not business.
Said Mvula: “Both Admarc and NFRA have to make sure that they are serving the farming community and not traders. This time farmers would have sold their maize to vendors.”
Results of the latest Malawi Vulnerability Assessment (Mvac) issued last week indicate that at least 3.8 million Malawians face acute hunger starting this October due to various reasons, including climatic shocks that affected maize yield, and high inflation that has led to increases in food prices.
Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Grecian Lungu has since said once the agency finishes its procurement processes for the SGR replenishment using the allocated K12 billion, the country will have adequate maize stock.
He said the 3.8 million people reported to face hunger in three months represents only less a million farming families.
In July this year, Treasury disbursed K12 billion to NFRA to buy the 50 000 metric tonnes of the staple grain for the SGRs, a move that irked Admarc and the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture who argued that the move has the potential to disrupt maize market dynamics and stifle smallholder farmers’ participation in the selling of the commodity.