The Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) and the Civil Society Agricultural Network (Cisanet) have commended government for its plans to engage the private sector in irrigation maize production as it strives to ensure food security in the country.
Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, issued a statement a fortnight ago calling on the private sector and individual producers interested to venture into large scale maize farming for the 2016/2017 consumption season and beyond.
In an advert placed in The Nation, the ministry says it seeks to increase maize production and to stock the country’s Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR) to ensure national food security.
“This is what the private sector has always lobbied government to consider doing as it is the only way to having food security,” said MCCCI president, Newton Kambala, in an interview.
Kambala added that the initiative would open a new avenue of investment in the local business as well as improve efficiency as businesses will be encouraged to invest in irrigation.
“The private sector has the capacity and capability to take on this challenge especially if government can seriously consider paying the private sector arrears they have been owed for a long time. I would like to encourage the private sector to take advantage of this opportunity to create wealth as they provide food security to the nation,” he said.
In a separate interview, Cisanet executive director, Tamani Nkhono-Mvula, said the initiative has come at a good time and needs to be encouraged.
“Cisanet, is happy that government has responded to our earlier request to identify companies for the same purpose. As you are aware, the government buys maize for the SGR through the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) which has had to wait for budget approval to buy maize. In most cases, it has been vendors who buy more maize because NFRA delays due to government procedures.
“As a result, we were failing as a country to buy maize from the farmers in excess of 60 000MT,” he said.
He, however, said that although the private sector has low capacity, it would be easy to enhance capacity as the companies will invest fully in irrigation farming with optimism because of the available market the government has created.
He thus urged authorities to put measures that would ensure that smallholder farmers are not deprived access to the markets, especially Admarc. He proposed to government to reserve a market quota for smallholder farmers to sell their maize as this is their source of livelihood.
Farmers Union of Malawi president, Alfred Kapichira Banda, has since called on the ministry to consider prioritising and empowering Malawian farmers if the initiative is to have an an enduring impact.
“As FUM, we don’t have the capacity to do this, but with our ability and government support, we believe we can achieve this. If we can utilise those old irrigation schemes that now need rehabilitation, we can compete with big companies from the private sector on an equal footing,” he said.
While confirming that the ministry has received a positive response from the private sector, Agriculture Minister Allan Chiyembekeza in an interview on Wednesday said they will soon release results of companies that have been shortlisted.
According to the ministry’s crop approximation results for 2015/16, the country will record a further drop in maize harvest of around two percent.
The results of the 2015/16 agricultural production estimates survey of the first round—which the ministry conducted—indicated maize production is projected at 2 719 425MT which is two percent lower than last year’s estimates of 2 776 277MT.
This year, Malawi recorded a 30 percent drop in Maize harvests due to combined effects of drought and floods in some parts of the country, which left about 2.8 million Malawians in 25 districts facing hunger and in need of humanitarian aid.