Three people collapsed at Mzuzu Admarc Depot in northern Malawi on Monday as hundreds scrambled to buy maize, the country’s staple grain, which vendors at the market are pegging at K3 000 per tin.
In Lilongwe, the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) has started rationing maize, selling 10 kilogrammes (kg) instead of the normal 50 kg per person. This has since angered consumers who have complained that the allocation is not enough to feed their families.
Admarc has confirmed that rationing is due to shortage of maize on the market because of increased demand from consumers.
Admarc public relations officer Agnes Ndovi, in an interview on Monday, attributed the shortages to the fact that November to March is normally the lean period in the country when most household foodstuffs are depleted pending the next harvest season.
She said: “As is always the case with issues of demand and supply, some vendors are taking advantage of the affordable maize which Admarc is offering and a huge price differential between Admarc and [local] council markets, and are employing people to buy maize from Admarc for resale at a higher price in council markets.
“To curb this, Admarc has resorted to rationing the maize to 20–25kg per person to discourage vendors and also ensure that at least everyone accesses the maize.”
Ndovi said Admarc is also working with market committees who are controlled by district councils and local leaders to ensure that only the rightful beneficiaries access the maize.
Buyers interviewed on Monday at Lilongwe Admarc, the biggest market in the Central Region, said they are only being allowed to buy 10 kg per person.
Angella Mtambo, who walked from Ntandire to the market at 3am, said there is a huge scarcity of maize in Lilongwe forcing them to leave their homes at dawn to look for the grain at Admarc.
She said: “We cannot afford to buy from traders because their prices are very high. Imagine someone selling a five-litre container at K2 500. This is daylight robbery and we cannot afford.”
In Mzuzu, The Nation witnessed one lady collapse and fellow maize buyers carry her to a better ventilated place. She still remained in a comma and, frightened, they took her to the main road where they stopped a vehicle to take her to a hospital.
Earlier, it was survival of the fittest as everyone wanted to be first on the queue. No casualties were reported, but part of the depot’s perimeter fence was brought down.
“I will wait here. I only have K1 000 and a tin at the market is about K3 000 and that is far much higher than what I have,” said Mirriam Mkandawire of Chiputula Township.
Admarc regional manager (North) Boniface Masina said government has released maize from the silos and that soon it will be available.
He said Mzuzu depot got 600 bags on Thursday afternoon and that people were buying 20 kilogrammes each.
“However, in addition to sending maize to districts, we want selling points in the city like Chibavi, Choma, Lupaso and other places to be stocked with maize. This will help reduce the congestion,” said Masina.
The apparent maize shortage comes against a background of “enough maize stocks to meet the country’s needs up to the next harvest season [in March and April]” as reported by the country’s donors who inspected the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) early this month.