Malawi Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe says government will set aside K8.5 billion (about $20m) for the importation of maize in the 2015/16 National Budget expected to be tabled in June.
The minister’s revelations come amid growing fears that harvest is expected to drop by between 30 percent and 40 percent from last season’s 3.9 million metric tonnes.
Said the minister: “If we do not do anything, millions of people might suffer and we are reacting to that. In addition, government also feels the economy might be in danger if appropriate measures are not taken.”
Civil Society Agriculture Network (CisaNet) national coordinator Tamani Nkhono-Mvula on Monday said his network’s assessment disclosed that the 30-40 percent drop in harvest will likely lead to looming hunger if government does not act to avert starvation.
CisaNet’s projections mean that Malawi would likely have an estimated harvest of between 2.5 million and 2.7 million metric tonnes, about 1.2 million metric tonnes lower than last year.
In absolute terms, that is a projected fall of between 1.2 million and 1.6 million tonnes against the 3.9 million tonnes harvested in 2014, according to our calculations.
Thus, the estimated harvest maybe between 2.3 million and 2.7 million metric tonnes of the staple grain, maize—leaving the country with barely enough to survive.
These output figures are within the total national food requirement that, in the 2013/14 season, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security estimated to be around 2.5 million tonnes.
In an interview yesterday, national coordinator for Cadecom, Casterns Mulume, said the money may sound huge, but it is not enough considering the impact of the problems at hand.
According to him, if the country has maize, then the money might just do the trick, but the recent floods have put the country in great danger.
“Already the maize that was being kept has been used by the flood victims and then comes this, I am afraid we could be in danger. The country needs to focus on irrigation measures, as a long-term plan. Because after we improve food security what happens? We need to do more,’’ he said.
Food security in Malawi is generally equated with adequate production of maize which, according to the International Food Policy Institute, accounts for more than 60 percent of the country’s total food production.
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza also confirmed that the country will have a substantial decrease in the harvest.
Economic watchers are worried.
Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) executive director Dalitso Kubalasa said the saddest reality is the under performance of the agriculture sector in relation to its potential.
Said Kubalasa: “This [projected reduction] is a massive blow to the economy from several angles since the little productivity expected has been washed away with the huge Farm Input Subsidy Programme [Fisp]; investment gone with the floods leaving us with the gloomy food insecurity to contend with.”
The ministry is yet to release its official crop estimates for this year, which normally come at the end of January or early February.
Given that food—dominated by maize—make up at least 50 percent of the consumer price index, the staple grain’s potential shortage will likely worry monetary authorities as low supply could sharply push prices up, leading to high headline inflation.
To tame inflation—which hurts the poor most—the Reserve Bank of Malawi could resort to raising interest rates—currently hovering around 35 percent.
And given that agriculture accounts for more than 30 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), weak crop output could mean lower economic growth, which may result in low tax to fund the national budget and suppressed economic activity in general; hence, perpetuating or worsening poverty.