Recently, government announced the deployment of soldiers in borders to enforce a ban on maize being smuggled out.
My immediate reaction was “Bravo!’ Just days later, President Peter Mutharika reiterated this stance at Mulanje Mission.
Kudos, Your Excellency!
For starters, this is a very important topic that calls for serious comments.
When Malawians talk about maize, we are talking of the country’s staple and lifeline.
As a nation, we are working tirelessly to convince the citizenry to diversify our diets and eating habits.
But that is not going to happen just in a day.
It will take decades for the majority of the populace to adopt the gospel of diversified diets which is key to ending malnutrition and stunting in the country.
For now, we are stuck with maize and our development depends on it.
Some people use maize, especially the absence of it, as a political tool to advance their hidden agendas.
For the last two years, this country faced lengthy dry spells that left nearly 6.5 million Malawians with empty food baskets.
Actually, some sectors blew their trumpets so loud to convince the unquestioning hand-clappers that the nation was on its knees.
But we had maize enough to feed the 17 million for the whole year and no-one has died of hunger.
The situation required simple regulation and government has introduced the much-needed regulation to prohibit the buying and selling of maize without permission.
When government borrowed money to purchase maize from Zambia last year, we ended with the unpopular procurement scandal called Maize-gate.
But Malawi saw itself through the 2016/2017 lean period with maize produced, bought and stored by vendors who still flood the market even though the harvesting season has just begun.
We have had adequate rains this year for agricultural purposes.
The yield from many gardens promises to be higher than last year’s.
This a time to rejoice.
Commercial maize farmers would certainly want to realise some profits, but prices have dropped to as low as K50 per kilogram in some areas.
The President’s promise that Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) will intervene and the ban on maize sales to unscrupulous buyers is a welcome move to safeguard this year’s yield.
It is the companies who benefit more when exporting of maize goes unregulated.
They will deploy their agents nationwide to buy maize at less than K50 per kilogram.
Ironically, they will sell the same four times higher than the buying price.
This is not fair, fellow Malawians.
We generally have cycles of plenty and lean seasons.
Years of good rains are sometimes followed by years of poor harvests.
We cannot afford to export our harvests carelessly since our agriculture is still heavily dependent on the rains and the irrigation system is underdeveloped. Surely keeping enough maize for the next three years will do us good.
We have maize silos for that purpose. The inflation rate in this country is easily tamed when we have plenty.
It is only when we are satisfied with the levels of our household and strategic grain reserves that it would be commendable to allow licensed grain traders to be permitted to process and export maize flour.
Grinding and packaging of maize flour is a simple value addition process that needs no sophisticated machinery.
There is need for transparent regulation and licensing of such companies to see to it that the processes of providing permits is done on a level ground.
We are not going anywhere if we just do things without a vision.
We need a systematic way of exporting maize products.
President Muntharika did not err in banning maize exports. We expected government to go further than that.