- 30 trucks detained in Chipata over export permits
Thirty trucks carrying about 900 tonnes of maize for hunger-stricken Malawi have been detained by the Zambian government over export permit queries, Weekend Nation has learnt.
Over the Easter period, Weekend Nation visited Chipata—Zambia’s eastern town that borders Mchinji—and found that some of the trucks were offloading the grain, most of which is showing signs of spoiling.
The stand-off has lasted more than 45 days, since February, during which time the maize has started discolouring and showing signs of decay, according to our observations last week when part of the grain was being offloaded into warehouses of Zambia’s Food Reserve Agency.
The maize is also being exposed to adverse weather at the border, including heat and rains.
Weekend Nation could not independently establish throughout the week whether this maize is part of the consignment government announced it had bought from Zambia to cushion the maize deficit that left at least 2.8 million people in need of food aid on the back of last year’s drought and floods that cut maize output by around 30 percent.
And given that this year’s maize output will drop by a further two percent, the maize stuck at the Zambian border could also help cushion the additional projected deficit.
In February, Admarc announced the purchase of 30 000 metric tonnes from Zambia, but Weekend Nation could not establish if the maize stuck in Chipata is part of that consignment.
In an interview last Saturday, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza said he was not aware of any government maize being stuck in Zambia as such could not say anything about the situation.
Chiyembekeza said he has only heard people—including Zambian authorities—talking about Malawi maize being held in Zambia, but no one in his office has briefed him.
“I have heard about Malawi maize being stuck in Zambia and even the Zambian High Commissioner in the country has commented about it, but no one in my office has told me about the issue, which means that I have no information about this and I cannot comment on things I have no information about,” Chiyembekeza said.
“Furthermore, these are difficult times for us; anyone can say anything and everyone would want to bring maize in the country looking at the situation we are in,” he said
Since February 2016, the Zambian government has been refusing to grant export permits to some Malawian companies to bring maize into Malawi.
Apparently, Lusaka had restricted the export of maize to first verify its own national stocks following the bad weather that has hit southern Africa this year.
Information Weekend Nation has gathered shows that the 30 trucks carrying 30 tonnes each belonged to Omar’s Transport and Fermak Transport and were carrying about 780 tonnes for a Malawian company called Chinyanje and 120 tonnes for Rab Processors.
One truck driver Weekend Nation interviewed on the scene, Zembere Golowa—who said he works for Omar’s Transport—confirmed that he was offloading the maize in Zambia Food Reserve Agency Chipata warehouses after waiting for over 45 days at the border for owners to organise papers to clear the grain.
Golowa said apart from adverse weather conditions, the drivers have had to fight off thieves that wanted to steal the maize at Mwami Border in Zambia.
“With the hunger in Malawi and many African countries, maize is on high demand, as such we practically could not sleep at night because of thieves who wanted to steal from us. In fact, we caught two thieves who were trying to steal the maize and as we are speaking now they are in the hands of police,” Golowa said.
Of the 30 held trucks, Rab Processors Limited has confirmed ownership of four, while Chinyanje has claimed the maize in 26 trucks, which it said it wanted to supply to Admarc.
One of Chinyanje directors, Emmanuel Sitima, indicated to Weekend Nation in an interview on Thursday that they sourced the maize from Rab.
He, however, said the problem was a misunderstanding between the owners of the maize (Rab Processors Limited) and the Zambian government who he said could not understand each other on the source the maize.
“I cannot blame Rab Processors, it was a misunderstanding between the supplier and Zambian government and we are told that the issue has now been resolved and very soon the maize will start arriving in the country,” he said.
Sitima confirmed that the 26 trucks that were held in Zambia were part of the consignment that was being delivered to Admarc, adding that: “We have already delivered over 30 trucks to Admarc.”
He said during the standoff his company did not involve Admarc because it was a recipient and not party to the disagreements.
On the condition of the maize, Sitima said during the standoff, his company raised the issue that Admarc could not be interested to receive maize that was not in good condition.
He said they will wait to see the condition of the maize to determine the way forward.
But Rab Processors general manager Ahmed Sunka denied that his company sold maize to any Malawi-based company, but rather sold it to a Zambian company on ex-warehouse basis, saying it is that company that may be supplying to the companies in Malawi.
“We understand that there were some export restrictions a few weeks back, but now things should be rolling,” he said.
Sunka disclosed that they have now resolved the matter with the Zambian government and the maize was likely to be in the country soon.
“For the other maize which you are talking about, what we know is that there is a long chain involving that maize. Some people are not telling the truth,” he said.
Sunka said all he knows is that the maize was destined for Malawi, but he is not aware that his company was to facilitate the negotiation of export permits.
Admarc spokesperson Agnes Chikoko confirmed that Chinyanje was one of the many companies that offered to sell the maize to Admarc.
“They told us they have the maize and when we went to inspect the maize we were satisfied with the quality,” she said. n