Government has procured 10 000 metric tonnes of additional maize stock from Zambia, which it says is enough to feed starving Malawians to the end of April 2016.
The procurement has increased the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) stocks to about 50 500 metric tonnes (MT) and is already being delivered to its selling depots in all the three regions.
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza insisted on Monday when he updated the nation on the food situation that the maize stock was enough to feed hungry Malawians until harvesting time.
But his remarks come amid reports of worsening food crisis across the country as Malawians continue spending hours, even nights, at Admarc depots to buy the staple.
This also comes barely a day after The Nation revealed that multitudes of people were queuing for maize husks (madeya), which some people were distributing to communities surrounding the Catholic University in Nguludi, Chiradzulu District.
Explained Chiyembekeza: “This has helped Admarc to have 50 500 MT of maize in its stock. Part of it is already being delivered to Admarc depots to enable people access it in all the three regions.”
The minister, who was accompanied by Information Minister Jappie Mhango, said out of the total tonnage in Admarc’s custody, 25 220 MT will feed hungry families in the Southern Region, the Centre will get 16 863 MT while the North will take the remaining 8 417 MT.
Spot checks conducted by The Nation on Monday indicated that most Admarc selling depots in Blantyre as well other parts of the Southern Region have stocks of the grain, but not enough to cater for hundreds of starving Malawians.
“At least we have maize in stock every two to three days. The last delivery was on Friday and today [Monday] we are also receiving this allocation,” a buyer, who identified herself as Ivyn Magome, told The Nation at Zingwangwa Admarc market yesterday.
At Zingwangwa, The Nation crew found a truck offloading bags of maize, but just like at Ndirande and Chilomoni Admarc depots in Blantyre, there were still long queues of people struggling to access the commodity.
In Mzuzu the situation is even worse as more than 2 000 people are queuing to access the weekly allocation of 200 50 kg bags at each Admarc selling point.
An Admarc official, who opted for anonymity, said the situation is sending fears among Admarc officials as buyers are accusing them of selling the maize to vendors, “but in actual sense the allocation is not enough”.
He said fights are the order of the day as people are scrambling for the maize. Buyers, particularly, in Mchengautuwa and Hilltop sleep for some days to access the commodity.
In a separate interview on Monday, Admarc chief executive officer Foster Mulumbe said the grain trader is dispatching 5 000 tonnes of maize across the country every week.
He added that all its transporters have been dedicated to the distribution task, but said the demand for the grain is too high.
“But that demand is understandable. We are much cheaper than almost anyone,” he said. Admarc is selling maize at K110 per kg while private traders’ prices hover around K160 per kilogramme.
Meanwhile, government has come to the realisation that the country will face another food shortage this growing season and has asked interested private sector maize growers with the capacity for irrigation farming to supply maize.
The development comes against calls from several players, among them opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which has on several occasions requested government to engage large estates to grow maize on a commercial scale for government to buy.
However, the minister yesterday said it is difficult to quantify how much maize production the private sector can contribute to the 2016/17 harvest.
Chiyembekeza said apart from its own strategies, government was looking for one million tonnes, which is nearly half of the maize requirement for Malawi in a good harvest year.
In its call for expression of interest, the Ministry of Agriculture has noted that maize crop production will decline in the 2015/16 growing season due to El Nino which has resulted in dry spells in most parts of the country.
MCP public relations officer Alekeni Menyani yesterday said calls for private players’ involvement in production of maize has been the party’s proposal for a long time and it is even contained in their 2014 manifesto.
Several organisations, including the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Bank and other governments have poured in resources to help avert starvation of the 2.8 million Malawians in need of food aid.