Monday, July 16, 2007

Maize export to leave Malawi hungry

. No trace of last year’s 400,000 mt

By Rex Chikoko

There is no mechanism to monitor the export of maize to neighbouring countries, a development that could leave the country without maize for local consumption during the lean period, Malawi News has found out.

The situation is compounded by the fact that government and Admarc have not yet started buying maize from farmers to keep for local consumption three months after harvest.

The delay by Government and Admarc to start buying the crop has given private traders leeway to buy off the crop from the farmers at a price lower than government’s recommended K17/kg, which they are exporting to Zimbabwe and Swaziland. In the two countries, maize is said to be selling at minimum price of K32/kg.

Malawi is said to have a surplus of 1.3 million metric tonnes of maize, on top of last year’s 400,000 metric tonnes. But Admarc has exported all its stocks to Zimbabwe while the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) has got only 90,000 metric tonnes in stock for emergency only, our source close to NFRA has said.

The source revealed that since the lift of the ban on maize export three months ago, over 100,000 metric tonnes of maize have already been exported to Zimbabwe and some stocks and that some of it has found its way to Swaziland.

The source said the exporting of maize is threatening the country’s food security as there is no mechanism to police the exporting exercise.

“[For example], one wonders: where is the 400,000 metric tonnes surplus we had last year. If anything, the country has got only 90,000 metric tonnes and this maize is strictly for emergency use,” he said.

Asked who is keeping the 400,000 metric tonnes from last year’s harvest which President Bingu wa Mutharika has been talking about, our source who is close to NFRA said no one knows where it is. The source said it is not safe to conclude the maize is with the farmers.

The source said before the lift of the ban to export maize Admarc had 25,000 metric tonnes in stock but it has since exported over 39,000 metric tonnes and is expected to export 11,000 metric tonnes more to meet its 50,000 metric tonnes tender allocation.

Malawi News investigations discovered that an average of 3,000 metric tonnes of maize leaves the country through Mwanza boarder alone on a daily basis and it is believed that the figure is bigger considering that it is not only Mwanza border which is being used as an outlet.

Agriculture Parliamentary Committee chairperson Vitus Dzoole Mwale said the country is heading for disaster, as government has not taken heed of his committee’s recommendation to reserve enough food for the country.

Dzoole Mwale said while on the ground it is believed that there is surplus of the staple food, in reality the country does not have enough reserves since Admarc has not yet started restocking.

“We asked government to declare maize a protected crop so that it can easily regulate the purchase and selling of the commodity but nothing has happened. We have seen private traders dictating the selling of the crop and unfortunately poor farmers are not benefiting from the sales,” he said.

Dzoole Mwale said government would not have any excuse for not buying maize from the farmers since the money for the exercise was already allocated.

“We are heading for a repeat of 2001,” he said.

Mwale blamed government for allowing private traders to buy straight from the farmers saying there is no regulation and monitoring of the purchase of maize which is likely to be abused by some traders.

Admarc Chief Executive Charles Matabwa refused to talk to Malawi News on Thursday.

But Agriculture Ministry Principal Secretary Patrick Kabambe said the ban on maize export was not fully really lifted and that government was regulating the private traders who are exporting maize.

“The ban was lifted temporarily and it is not every private trader who is allowed to export maize. Those allowed have to seek permission from NFRA before exporting,” he said.

He said the Immigration Department at the border posts was responsible for monitoring maize export licenses.

He also said NFRA and Admarc will soon start buying maize from the farmers.

Kabambe challenged that the country has got enough maize and that what Admarc was selling was last year’s stock, saying: “We have to sell it off because if we are not going to sell off some maize, the price on the market will crash.”

He also disputed reports that some maize was going to Swaziland, saying while the Swazi government approached Malawi to buy its maize, no agreement has been signed between the two countries.

Kabambe also said government has been encouraging farmers to keep enough maize for consumption in their homes.

But Immigration Department press officer Pudensiana Makalamba said she was not aware if her department was given the mandate to monitor the export of maize.

During 2000/01 growing season, Malawi realized a surplus of over 200,000 metric tonnes which was sold to Kenya by the UDF-led government in anticipation that the stocks would be replenished from the following year’s harvests. The development left over one million people without food and government was forced to import maize.

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