The upward adjustment of maize prices from K250 per kilogramme (kg) to K310/kg has attracted mixed reactions, with some stakeholders describing the move as ill-timed.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development in a statement signed by Principal Secretary Gray Nyandule-Phiri on Wednesday announced the adjustments, barely a month after a similar adjustment was made.
But reacting to the news in separate interviews yesterday, Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi and an agriculture expert said the timing is tricky as it will put government in competition with consumers who depend on the market as their source of maize.
In a telephone interview, Grain Traders and Processors Association chairperson Grace Mijiga-Mhango said the move is commendable but it may lead to private traders increasing maize prices on the market.
She said: “Such prices would have been offered at the right time when traders had not even hiked their prices as it is currently the situation on the ground. So with the current scenario, we can foresee an increment from the traders as well.”
However, Mijiga-Mhango said the move will offer an opportunity to traders that were hoarding the grain seeking better deals.
On his part, agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said in a written response government could have avoided this situation if there was foresight in dealing with the hunger situation in the country.
He said if such deals were made earlier to farmers like in June, the country could not have found itself in such a desperate situation.
Said Nkhono-Mvula: “Why should government be buying maize for the Strategic Grain Reserves [SGR] end of January… this is the time the SGR should have been handy to deal with the situation on the ground not itself doing the buying.
“Let me say this, the SGR budget must always be guaranteed at all times and the operational calendar and the amounts of maize to be bought by NFRA [National Food Reserve Agency] must not be determined by the crop estimates. The SGR must be full regardless of crop estimates.”
But Nyandule Phiri said in the statement the move has been necessitated to enable effective support to communities that experienced maize production deficits in the 2018/19 season. Besides, he also announced an extension of the maize buying period to February 29 2020.
Initially, the minimum maize price was pegged at K150/kg. However, the price was revised to K200/kg in August before a further revision to K230/kg in October.
In November 2019, the price was also revised to K250/kg before the current K310/kg revision.
When the Parliamentary Committee on Budget and Finance recently visited the SGRs in Lilongwe, it was revealed that there was only 14 000 metric tonnes (MT) of maize in stock against the recommended 217 000MT.
Maize is an important crop to the country and as part of food, contributes about 45.2 percent to the Consumer Price Index, an aggregate basket computing inflation.