Malawi’s National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) has said it is grappling to rehabilitate and maintain Kanengo silos, admitting that there is completely lack of depth in competence in silos structural engineering in the country.
The agency has also bemoaned lack of adequate funds for the rehabilitation of the 40 silo bins initially planned, saying only four silos have been considered to suit its budget.
Meanwhile, an agriculturist has warned that lack of structural engineering is potentially resulting into government, through NFRA, compromising the storage of maize in the country hence a recipe for fuelling hunger.
NFRA chief executive officer Nasimuko Saukira said in Lilongwe during the European Union (EU) portfolio performance review meeting that operating Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR) is highly technical in nature and this is manifested in the slow progress before and even after the project’s take off.
Government established NFRA in 1999 as a trust to manage and operate SGR and prior to its establishment, NFRA’s activities were in the hands of the State produce trader, Admarc.
EU Commission supports the management of NFRA through the Ministry of Finance and the agreement was funded under component two of the ‘Food Security ProgramME for Malawi between 2004 and 2006.’
“There is no experienced engineer in Malawi to calculate and advise on post tensioning of silos bins as prescribed by a short-term experts who assessed the silos to counter tensile stress,” said Saukira when he presented his paper.
Explaining the problem further, Saukira said only one contractor tendered for the rehabilitation of the silos, signifying the complexity surrounding maintaining the grain reserves.
Business Review understands that even the sole contractor, Plem Construction, had outsourced the services from a South African company to do post tensioning tabling of silos which basically helps to prevent the cracks from growing bigger.
He said due to the uniqueness of the structures, there is apparent lack of structural engineering capacity of the nature demanded by uniqueness of Kanengo silos that can be easily accessed by the agency in the country to advise on rehabilitation activities.
“This was confirmed by the length of time it took the local contractor to mobilise after being awarded the contract to rehabilitate the four silos bin,” said Saukira.
However, despite the challenges facing the institution, Saukira assured that overall, the project objectives have been achieved saying assessment of the 40 concrete silos was done.
But he recommended that there is a serious need for capacity building in concrete structures engineering in both private and public sectors in Malawi.
A source at the National Authorising Office (NAO) Support Unit, which oversees the rehabilitation of four silos, said it was recommended in the 1990s that the silos be undergoing major rehabilitation regularly but said the reserves have been undergoing small and minor rehabilitations since then.
The silos at Kanengo have a capacity to hold 130 000 metric tonnes, making them largest silos concentration in Malawi.
Other modern silos and warehouses are located in Bangula in Nsanje, Mzimba, Limbe, Luchenza in Thyolo, Mangochi and Mzuzu and together with the Kanengo silos, the country has a total storage capacity of 240 000 metric tonnes.