No maize to replenish grain reserves—NFRA

A visit by Parliamentary Committee on Budget and Finance to the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGRs) in Lilongwe on Wednesday revealed that there is only 14 000 metric tonnes (MT) of maize in stock against the recommended 217 000MT.

The 217 000MT comprise of 95 000MT buffer stock, 8 000MT emergency stock, 76 000MT safety net stock for non-emergency response and 38 000MT stabilisation stock.

Saukira gestures while updating the committee on Wednesday

National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) chief executive officer Nasinuku Saukila told the committee members that the country does not have enough maize and that the money allocated to NFRA in the 2019/20 National Budget is lying idle as there is no maize to buy.

He said: “Currently, we only have 14000 metric tonnes in stock. We failed to buy maize because of a competitive tendering government set which made suppliers not bring the maize when we called for the supply twice.”

The committee visited NFRA after noting that the K10 billion which was allocated to it to restock the SGRs has not been tapped into.

The committee chairperson Sosten Gwengwe said they were worried that there was no update on the maize stocks, fearing the money might be lying idle while people are lavishing in hunger.

He said: “As an oversight committee, we took time to invite NFRA and Admarc to find out how they were doing on maize procurement. So we were told that they have tendered the maize at K180 per kg and nobody responded, and then increased to K200 per kg and nobody came again and we have not heard anything since that time.”

“We suspect that the money is not utilised and it’s very unfortunate at this time to have maize funds sitting idle when people are struggling to buy maize. on Wednesday, we met the Secretary to the Treasury to find out the utilisation of those funds, but he never responded.”

However, Gwengwe said there are chances that when Parliament meets for Mid-Year Budget Review next week, they may have to consider allocating additional money for maize purchase.

But when contacted, Secretary to the Treasury Cliff Chiunda said there is no need for the committee to worry about where the money went as the money is intact and as Treasury, they just wait for a request from related agencies.

“There are resources there and it’s up to the related agencies to procure maize to give to people who are suffering because of hunger. I cannot say more on that, I know that money is there when they ask us, we give them,” he said.

During the visit, Saukira told the committee that apart from the K10 billion government allocated to them, they had a carry-over of K2 billion to buy maize. He, however, said government released only K1 billion of the allocations but still they haven’t bought any maize.

“This means that we had K3 billion and from the K3 billion we only managed to buy 770 tonnes. Suppliers have let us down,” said Saukira.

Currently, the number of food insecure people has risen within eight months from 1 062 674 last May to 1879 391 this year, according to new estimates by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) report.

Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) chief relief and rehabilitation officer Fyabupi Mwafongo on Monday said there is need of about 23 190MT of maize for relief to hunger-stricken families, but with what the SGRs have, tougher times cannot be ruled out.

Early last month, government announced plans to venture into contract farming with farmers (both subsistence and commercial) with the aim of restocking the SGRs.

Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Principal Secretary Grey Nyandule Phiri  said government seeks to buy 100 000MT of maize under contract farming for the 2019/2020 growing season to replenish the SGRs.

However, the third round Agriculture Production Estimates Survey (Apes) indicate that maize production is at 3 391 924MT, representing 24.7 percent increase when compared to the 2017/18 final round estimate of 2 697 959MT. In the 2019/20 National Budget, the agriculture sector was allocated K167.0 billion, an increase of 11.3 percent from last year’s K150.0 billion. Government allocated K27 billion for fertiliser purchases and  K10 billion for the purchase of maize by NFRA to restock the SGR, an increase of around 14.7 percent compared to last year.

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