Earlier this year, the International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri) said Malawi has the highest maize price volatility compared to other sub-Saharan countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda and South Africa, among others. You dispute that at your own peril.
Primarily, Ifpri says that the volatility is the result of lack of transparency on the maize market.
That the Malawi maize market lacks transparency is a hard-to-bear reality. Figure this: In March, the then Minister of Agriculture Joseph Mwanamvekha announced the first round crop estimates saying Malawi’s maize production would rise by 25 percent from 2.6 million metric tonnes to 3.38 million.
That was news to smile about. But the smiles waded when Cyclone Idai hit us, affecting 14 of the country’s 28 districts. That led to the loss of 71 111 hectares of maize, rice and pigeon peas fields, leaving 291 470 households with little or no harvest at all.
Before we wore those gloomy faces, the government was back with some good news. The second round of estimates indicated we would have 355 000 metric tonnes maize surplus.
Whether these figures are real or sexed up to show ‘strides’ we are making because of such endeavours as the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) is not for me to tell but I take the speculative approach government takes on maize does not help us at all. It is just amazing how maize prices are sky-rocketing when we were fed the conjecture that all was well.
In just a few months, maize prices have been rising to somewhere between K12 000 and K16 000 per 50 kilogramme bag. Ironically, when traders were buying from farmers, the price of the commodity was at K80 per kilogramme, way below the government set K180 farmgate price.
What this means is that the small-scale farmer who needed some money during the peak period will have to dig far much deeper into the pockets to get the commodity, which contributes 45.2 percent of the Consumer Price Index (CPI)—the basket of goods and services used to compute inflation. A rise in the price of maize, essentially, leads to a rise in the inflation.
On paper, the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) is supposed to cushion and stabilise the price of maize, but the corporation has miserably failed in that regard. Primarily, that is because buys the grain at during the lean period when the staple is very high.
It really makes no economical sense that Admarc should be announcing, today, that it is inviting traders to sell maize to the corporation. What this means, if Admarc is going to try to stabilise the market, is that, it will buy the commodity at a higher price and sell it at a lower price.
As a matter of fact, it is very much surprising that Admarc should get to the anti-hill to say that if traders do not sell it maize, they will import from neighbouring countries. I smell another Maizegate in the making here. Remember that the other time Admarc imported maize from Zambia, after getting a loan, when locally there was considerable amounts of the grain within the country. The result was the consequent arrest and trial of the then agriculture minister George Chaponda.
History, they always say, repeats itself. We must, at all cost, avoid recurrence of such thievery. This lighting should not strike Admarc again.
It is a given fact that much of Malawi’s maize is in the hands of traders than Admarc as it should be in the ideal situation. The traders will keep on hoarding the maize and given that the market is liberal, Malawians on the street will pay through the nose. And Admarc will keep on dancing its own kanindo, a dance that has led it into the heavy and stinking sweat of debt.