About 2.8 million people in Malawi face hunger due to acute maize shortage. Although the staple is sparsely available, it is too expensive for the poor, selling at K20 000 per 50 kilogramme (kg) bag. Last week, Prophet SHEPHERD BUSHIRI, the president of Shepherd Bushiri Foundation (SBF), started selling maize at a reduced price of K5 000 for a 50 kg bag as one way of helping starving Malawians to access the staple which, on normal markets, is going at K300 per kilogramme. Our reporter KONDWANI KAMIYALA asks Bushiri to explain why he is so concerned about food security in Malawi.
Why have you decided to intervene on the maize crisis and how much maize do you have in stock?
I decided to intervene because I saw that what is happening on the maize market is unacceptable. You cannot have a 50kg bag of maize fetching K20 000 against the background of 2 million going hungry in the current consumption.
So, after I made an offer last year to Admarc to help them improve their stock and it wasn’t taken up, I was left without option but step up myself. I had to step in to ensure that we don’t increase the vulnerability band to more millions.
That is why we have sourced a good stock of the staple and we are selling it at K100 per kilogramme so that even the poor of the poorest can get something.
Last year, you appealed to both government and private traders to provide maize to Malawians so that they do not starve, why do you think no one responded positively to this appeal?
In October last year, I offered a tangible solution to key stakeholders on the maize market to open up for a working arrangement that could have prevented the current dire maize situation. I cannot speak for them as to why they never took it up. I can only say I am happy that I took it up myself and, so far, we have opened markets in four districts and thousands of people are turning up to buy the cheap staple.
The price for your maize is not commercially viable, why would a sensible person sell maize at such a huge loss?
For the past 7 years, I have been providing free maize—and I still do—to millions of people across the country. This year, besides providing free maize, I also thought of selling it at the cheapest price ever. I did this after observing the maize market which pushed the price to about K20 000 per 50kg bag. I had to intervene on the market to ensure that we don’t increase the vulnerability head which, according to government, is at over a million.
Some quarters believe you are doing this to win the hearts of Malawians as you plan to launch your political career. What do you say to this?
Through my Shepherd Bushiri Foundation, I have been doing humanitarian work not just in Malawi for the past 7 years or so. To mention just a few, I have been running humanitarian projects in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Botswana, India, Nicaragua and Tanzania. Are you saying I want to become a president in all these countries as well?
I do humanitarian projects to help our people and, also, to show the world that us, as Africans, we have the capacity to help ourselves and make our lives better. As Africans we should shy away from always thinking that Europe, USA and China have all the answers of our development and humanitarian problems. I have shown that we can help ourselves; let’s lock hands.
And the question of the source of maize keeps on coming up. Where did you get all this maize and how much has it cost your ministry?
Some of the maize comes from my farms and the other I source it locally. Being an ongoing process, I may not have exact figures about how much it is costing Shepherd Bushiri Foundation. Further, I don’t see what I do in terms of its costs; I see it as a service, something that brings contentment in my heart.
What is your last word?
I want to assure Malawians that they should always look at me as their friend in their need. My passion is to help, and I will not stop. I am passionate about this. It’s my calling to help.