As the country continues to implement its national response to the food insecurity situation in the country, it would be wise for government to act with speed.
Half of the people in Malawi, or 8.8 million, face food shortage due to the El Nino which has reduced crop harvests this year estimated at 12.4 percent compared to last year when the country harvested 2.9 million metric tonnes (MT) of maize—against a national requirement of 3.2 million MT. This is because of the country’s dependence on rain-fed agriculture. But that is beside the point.
As part of the government’s response to the food crisis, President Peter Mutharika in March this year declared a state of national disaster aimed at courting international assistance.
With the southern Africa region facing a similar crisis, Malawi has said it will also source maize from outside Africa. Government has said if push comes to shove, it may have to buy maize from Brazil, Mexico, Ukraine and the Caribbean, among others. Some of these countries have a history of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) including white grain maize. But that is a story for another day.
For starters, other countries that have declared a state of national drought disaster are Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Zambia, which shares many things with Malawi culturally, trade, et cetera, is not in as bad a situation as Malawi. That is why Malawi turned to Zambia for its maize imports totaling 30 000 MT last year. For over seven years now, Zambia has been a surplus maize producer, which is testimony to the fact that the country has the ability to grow maize beyond its human and industrial consumption demand.
While Malawi witnessed a reduction in maize production in the 2015/16 agriculture season, Zambia has recorded an increase with an output of 2 873 052 MT. This is an increase of 9.73 percent from the 2 618 221 MT produced in 2014/15.
In addition to this, there is carry-over stock amounting to 667.524 MT as at May 1 2016. The Zambia Food Reserve Agency (FRA) is holding 360 648 MT, the Grain Traders Association of Zambia (GTAZ) 207 771, Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) 36 701 while small and medium scale farmers hold about 38 751 MT. When compounded, the 2015/2016 agricultural season will have 3 540 577 MT. Government planners know where to get this information.
This is against the local consumption demand of 2.3 million MT for domestic and industrial use.
I have it on authority that Zambia will obviously be taking advantage of the current maize deficit in the region to maximise market advantage within the Sadc and Comesa regions.
Currently, Zambia is encouraging an open border policy aimed at restoring confidence among commercial farmers to increase production, and policy stability for their participation in export trade given the market access advantage the country enjoys through various Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with the region.
But as the adage goes, an early bird catches the worm, Malawi can take advantage of the surplus maize in Zambia to feed its 8.8 million hungry people at a fraction of the cost of importing maize from Brazil, Mexico, Ukraine and such other countries.
All that Malawi needs to do is strategise and be quick in doing things. No doubt some philanthropists will come, as they always do, but we don’t know when. And because of the panic that always comes with the uncertainty of when good Samaritans will come government always ends up spending huge sums of money to save the day.
As Parliament meets starting this week for the 2016/17 budget session, one can only hope that everyone will weigh in on the idea of ensuring that government puts in place measures to get this surplus maize in Zambia at a cheaper cost before Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe do so.
In fact, as I am saying this now, I can guarantee that our neighbours, equally hit by hunger are also strategising and eyeing the same Zambian grain to get it before anyone else does.