Despite Zambian flour providing relief to scores of Malawians from the pangs of hunger that has hit the country, Police and the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) have tightened security in the border district of Mchinji to stop the importation of Zambian maize flour.
Mchinji Police Spokesperson Sub Inspector Moses Nyirenda defended the move saying they are only preventing unscrupulous traders from evading tax.
From December 2015, the country’s towns and cities have been flooded with 25kg bags of maize flour imported from the neighbouring Zambia, which is being sold relatively cheaper than a 50kg bag of Malawian maize flour.
Between December 2015 and early January this year, a 25kg of Zambian flour was selling at K7,500 ($10) while local vendors were selling a 50kg bag of maize at K15,000 ($20).
As reports of maize shortages heightened, some vendors started buying maize from Agricultural development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) depots at low prices for resale at higher prices that ranged from K17 500 to K24 000 ($33) per 50kg bag.
This also pushed the price of the Zambian flour from K7 500 to K8 000 and some shops it was selling at K8 500 ($12).
Taking advantage of the situation, some entrepreneurs have been flocking to Zambia to buy truckloads of flour for resale in Malawi.
Although expensive, the flour appeared to have helped many Malawian families evade hunger.
However, Nyirenda, while admitting that Zambian flour has brought relief amongst countless hungry Malawians, contended that majority of the importers were using uncharted routes in a deliberate move to evade tax.
He said this is what has prompted the Police and MRA to tighten security at all the border posts across the country.
“We’ve not stopped anybody from bringing into the country bags of flour from Zambia. Those with four of five bags are allowed to pass through the border without any hitches,” said Nyirenda.
“The problem we have now is that some businessmen are using big trucks to bring flour into the country using uncharted routes and they are the ones we are arresting.”
According to Nyirenda, the traders include even those from the Southern Region.
According to Nyirenda the MRA and Police officers are patrolling the Mchinji border post as well as at Namizana where the smugglers normally pass through.
When contacted for comment MRA Deputy Director of Corporate Affairs, Steve Kapoloma, said they already have a working relationship with the Police, but asked for more time to check if the patrols have been extended to the stopping of illegal imports of maize flour.
A visit by The Nation in the townships of Biwi, Mchesi and Kawale gave a clear testimony of how people were benefiting from the flour being imported from Zambia.
“I could have slept on an empty stomach for two days because there was no maize at Admarc. But fortunately, my son bought me a bag of Zambian flour from a shop in Mchesi, which I am currently subsisting on,” said a lady who sought anonymity.
At Mchesi Admarc, some three ladies who had been at the site for over seven hours said they will have no option, but to buy the Zambian flour if Admarc does not supply the market with maize anytime soon.