There is need for government to do a thorough analysis of maize crop estimates and storage stocks before beginning plans to purchase additional 200 000 metric tonnes (MT) grain, experts warned yesterday.
The remarks follow an announcement by Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe during his 2017/18 Mid-Year Budget Statement to Parliament that government has set aside an undisclosed amount of funds to enable National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) and Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) to purchase 200 000 MT of the grain in the wake of looming hunger.
The finance minister informed the House that there is 272 000 MT in the country’s food reserves, 90 000 MT that remained unsold by Admarc last season and 182 000 MT that was purchased locally by NFRA last year.
He further observed that 68 000 tonnes is estimated to be available around the country.
Said Gondwe: “In discussing the current food situation, it must be borne in mind that as of now there is no food shortage in Malawi and that the calamitous effects of dry spells and the fall armyworms Malawi is experiencing could impact on the country much later. All that could be said now is that food shortages will occur in a number of areas in Malawi and that we should prepare measures to mitigate this likely food disaster.”
But Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Alfred Kapichila Banda and Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture chairperson Joseph Chidanti-Malunga warned against purchasing maize that the country might actually not need as was the case in 2016.
Kapichira-Banda said the authorities need to have accurate figures of national requirement as well as percentages of hectares of the grain that has been destroyed by armyworms and persistent dry spells that affected a good number of districts across the country.
“It is also of paramount importance to have accurate estimates of the amount of maize that is expected to be harvested this growing season despite the negative effects. The fear is of a repeat of what happened in 2016 when the authorities ended up importing 100 000 metric tonnes of maize from Zambia basing on wrong estimates,” he said.
In a separate interview Chidanti-Malunga pointed out that it is dangerous if government officials will this time around start preparations of maize purchase without reliable and accurate data.
Malunga, who led a joint parliamentary committee inquiry into Zambia maize deal, explained that the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development is yet to release the crop estimates and wondered where the finance minister got his statistics.
“We don’t want a repeat of government spending a lot of millions to acquire maize that as a country we might not need. The Zambia maize deal is a good lesson to learn from but it seems we have no interest to take lessons from the past,” he said.
Asked whether it is feasible for Admarc to pay back the K45.2 billion government bailout, the chairperson said it is hard to say considering the financial mess the State grain marketer is in.
On his part, Economics Association of Malawi president Chiku Kalilombe was also sceptical that government would be able to recoup the K45 billion from Admarc.
“The nation needs a detailed explanation of how this bailout arose to give confidence to the taxpayers that it is indeed genuine. Once the 90 000 metric tonnes has been sold, the government should clearly explain how they will recover the balance, whatever it will be,” he said.
Government is unlikely to recover the sum from the sale of the 90 000 metric tonnes in stock unless the maize is exported. Admarc is selling maize at about K55 per kilogramme (kg).when the prevailing maize price is about K130 per kg.