Two weeks after the Ministry of Agriculture, National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) and Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) officials witnessed the beginning of the arrival into the country of the 30 000 MT of maize government has bought from Zambia, there is no let up in huge crowds at Admarc depots wanting to buy maize.
Led by Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Allan Chiyembekeza, the officials witnessed the arrival through Mchinji of 44 trucks of maize. It was expected that the maize would improve stocks in Admarc markets and reduce queues of maize buyers therein.
In his Mid-Year Budget Review Statement two weeks ago, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe said Treasury had empowered Admarc to procure another consignment of 50 000 MT tonnes of maize from Tanzania.
“As we see it, we will have enough maize in stock that will be more than enough to satisfy Admarc markets in the coming days,’’ said Gondwe.
Two weeks ago, the US Government gave the Malawi Government K20 billion as part of government’s response to the food shortage.
A snap survey in seven depots in Blantyre, Mzuzu, Mchinji and Chikwawa districts revealed that as of yesterday only Blantyre had started receiving the maize.
Edgar Jere of Kholoni Village in T/A Mlonyeni in Mchinji, claimed maize availability around Mchinji Boma continues to be erratic and people in the area have now resigned to fate. We could not verify this with Admarc officials.
“The only positive thing here is that we can access maize and flour from Zambia but also the area is fertile as such people grow alternative crops such as potatoes. Otherwise, if we were relying on Admarc, people would be dying of hunger right now,” he said.
When Weekend Nation visited Lunyangwa Depot in Mzuzu on Tuesday, it established that the depot had run for over a week without maize.
Margaret Simfukwe said the last time the depot received maize was on February 29, 2016 and stock only lasted hours.
Currently the depot which serves over six residential areas in the city is stocked with beans only and staff said they did not know when they will get another consignment of maize.
A similar scenario was reported at Zorozoro which is the nearest depot to Lunyangwa where huge crowds were on Wednesday waiting in vain to buy maize.
Joel Msisha, a resident of Mzuzu, said people were still waiting for the next arrival of maize at the market .
“It is only beans that the market has. We heard that government has bought maize from Zambia and that is what people are waiting for here,” he said.
At Changa Admarc Depot in Chikwawa, people claimed that maize was last sold at the depot on February 25.
Chikwawa is one of the districts that were heavily affected by floods in 2015. Agricultural experts predicted the district would face the most critical food shortages.
Davison Vazhi, a subsistence farmer from T/A Ngabu’s area, said the food situation in the area was going from bad to worse.
“Since we never harvested much from our own crops such as maize, millet and sorghum, people in this area have always relied on Admarc and vendors from Mozambique. But lately we have seen that Admarc is not being stocked according to demand.
Some relief in Blantyre
A random check in Admarc markets around Blantyre city yesterday found that maize was trickling into the markets but was being swallowed almost immediately by ever-increasing demand from buyers.
The people Weekend Nation spoke to in all the markets indicated that while maize is being delivered in the markets across the city, it was far below the demand there.
They also said the quotas that Admarc is using of selling 20 kilos per person is creating more problems as people who have big families would come twice in a week to buy.
At Zingwangwa long queues were seen following a delivery on Thursday, forcing some buyers to sleep over at the market.
Alefa Ntande, a Naperi resident claimed those that were buying yesterday got their tickets on Wednesday and Thursday and did not buy because maize the depot was closed adding that those that were just arriving would have to wait longer probably might even buy on Monday. She claimed she got her ticket on Thursday.
Heavy police presence was noted at Zingwangwa and Ndirande markets which was said to have been arranged by authorities in the two areas to maintain order.
However, at Chilomoni market where maize was delivered on Thursday, some people complained of disturbances in buying as there were only a handful of police officers to maintain order. Chilomoni also serves Mbayani and Chemusa. Buyers were seen coming from these townships.
Francis Jordan alleged that the main problem was interference from some people who jump the queue and that the few police officers present at the market gave chance to local politicians to control helpless Admarc officials.
But there was calm at Ndirande Admarc Depot where 100 bags of maize were being off loaded around 11 am despite the presence of a huge crowd of people.
National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) boss Nasinuku Saukila admitted that maize procurement experienced serious hiccups this year.
‘‘Maize prices have been the highest when you look at the trend in the last three years. The consequence was that maize purchased from the resource envelope was hugely reduced. Maize sellers kept abandoning signed maize supply contracts in anticipation of making a killing out of their product. That explains why maize is still being procured during this lean period. Government is fulfilling its role of ensuring that the people should be fed until they harvest their crop,” he said.
According to Saukila, earlier in the 2015 season at the height of the floods, NFRA released some 14 000 metric tonnes of maize to assist the victims.
He said at the close of the 2014/2015 fiscal year, the NFRA had some 46 623 metric tonnes of maize in stock and which was carried forward into the 2015/2016 fiscal year when $15 million was to be used to re-stock the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR).
The national requirement of maize is 3 million MT but the 2014/15 floods disaster and dry spells reduced maize production by 30 percent from 3 978 123 MT to 2 776 277 MT.
Maize production this year is expected to drop further by 2 percent from last year’s production, according to the first round of crop estimates. n
Additional reporting from George Singini and Watipaso Mzungu