Hunger and desperation to find food is said to be forcing communities around Nayuchi and Nkaya in Liwonde, Machinga to attack Central East African Railways (Cear) trains carrying wheat from Nacala.
A source from the area blamed the current hunger crisis saying people are milling the wheat into flour for porridge.
Confirming the development, Cear Public Relations Officer Chisomo Mwamadi said the attacks which started three weeks ago have now reached an alarming stage as the communities attack the trains in hundreds, damaging the trains, injuring security personnel, removing stone ballast from rail lines just to get the wheat.
He said the company has lost millions of money in payback for the lost wheat, repairs to the damaged trains and injured personnel as well as replacing the ballast stones which the ‘thieves’ are removing as they try to access the wheat fallen on the lines.
“The attacks are rampant at Nayuchi, when the trains stop for MRA inspections and clearing or when waiting for another train to pass on the line,” Mwamadi said.
This has forced Cear to increase the number of heavily armed police officers guarding the trains from five to ten officers per train at the Nayuchi MRA check point and from one to five during transit from Nacala.
“As a company we are treating this as pure theft and our increased security measures have led to an arrest of one person so far. He is being kept at Nayuchi police station and will appear in court soon,” he said.
According to Mwamadi, the company is also engaging traditional leaders in the said areas to help in sensitizing the communities against the malpractice.
“We are also engaging MRA to see how best we can speed up the clearing process of clearing,” he said.
Recently, media reports also indicated that Illovo Sugar Malawi is losing 10 to 15tons of sugarcane per hectare due to theft by communities trying to survive thehunger.
Senior Chief Kunthembwe of Blantyre said he is finding it difficult to control deforestation in his area as the number of individuals joining charcoal burning and selling business is increasing day by day.
“These villagers have become unruly, they openly tell us to give them food if we want them to stop cutting down trees for charcoal. They say it is the only source of income they have that helps them put food on the table. Buyers come to this area and sometimes the villagers themselves take the charcoal to the city,” Kunthembwe said.