If there is one thing any caring home and government will always ensure it has in abundance to ensure peace, it is food. In the case of Malawi, it is the staple—maize. When food is in short supply in the home, don’t expect peace and harmony.
The grain has been very much been in short supply in the country during the past two years. The delayed onset of rains last year, followed by floods and then prolonged dry spell due to the El Nino weather episode, aggravated the shortage of the staple underscoring the need to rely less on rain-fed farming.
But there is another commodity that is in critical short supply in Malawi—apart from maize—proper planning and prompt action by authorities to avert crises. Our leaders are long on talking and short on taking action.
Now not everybody can be up there planning to ensure there is food for the 17 million people. Admitted we all have a role to play. We dutifully pay tax but leave it to the powers that be to ensure the revenue is used for the purpose of procuring life-saving commodities like maize, drugs, et cetera.
What is abundantly evident every year is lack of good planning at the national level to ensure people get value for their taxes. We are just good at being politically correct. As government prepares for a national response to the food insecurity situation in the country, it would have been wise for it to act with speed.
Government has said some 6.5 million people in Malawi, face food shortage due to the El Nino which has reduced crop harvests this year by 12.4 percent compared to last year when the country harvested 2.9 million metric tonnes (MT) of maize—against a national requirement of 3.2 million MT.
As part of the government’s response to the food crisis, President Peter Mutharika in March this year declared a state of national disaster aimed at courting international assistance. With the southern Africa region facing a similar crisis, Malawi has said it will also source maize from outside Africa. Government has said if push comes to shove, it will buy maize from Brazil, Mexico, Ukraine and the Caribbean, among others.
For starters, some countries that have declared a state of national disaster are Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
But Zambia is not in as bad a situation as Malawi. That is why Malawi turned to Zambia for its maize imports totaling 30 000 MT last year. Is it not ironical that Zambia—not endowed with water resources of the magnitude we have—has been a surplus maize producer for seven years in a row?
The long and short of it is that while Malawi witnessed a reduction in maize production in the 2015/16 agriculture season, Zambia recorded an increase with an output of 2 873 052 MT. This is an increase of 9.73 percent from the 2 618 221 MT produced 2014/15.
In short, Zambia is sitting on 3 540 577 MT. This is against the local consumption demand of 2.3 million MT for domestic and industrial use. This maize is with the Zambia Food Reserve Agency (FRA), the Grain Traders Association of Zambia (GTAZ), the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU), and the small and medium scale farmers.
I have it on authority that Zambia will obviously be taking advantage of the current maize deficit in the region to maximize market advantage within the Sadc and Comesa regions. The Malawi government is aware of this. But the issue is: what has it done to get this maize?
Government should by now have taken advantage of the surplus maize in Zambia to feed its 6.5 million hungry people at a fraction of the cost of importing maize from Brazil, Mexico, Ukraine and such other countries.
All that Malawi needed to do is to be quick in doing things. No doubt some philanthropists will come, as they always do, but we don’t know when. And because of the panic that always comes with the uncertainty of when good Samaritans will come with their assistance government always ends up spending huge sums of money to save the day.
As I said a few weeks ago, Parliament should have weighed in on the idea of ensuring that government puts in place measures to get this surplus maize in Zambia at a cheaper cost before Malawi’s neighbours get it. I can guarantee that our neighbours, equally hit by hunger, are also eyeing the same Zambian grain and strategising to get it before anyone else does.
As the adage goes, an early bird catches the worm. n