Acute shortage drives up food prices
A critical shortage of staple grain, maize, has resulted in a significant jump of the price of the commodity, Malawi News has learnt.
Snap surveys in the country’s three regions have revealed that maize prices have risen sharply in January hitting as high as K18,000 per 50 kilogramme (kg) bag in some areas in districts in the Southern Region.
The development has forced many poor households to fail to access the basic commodity due to the soaring prices.
The situation has been compounded by the unavailability of the grain in Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) depots.
Tiyanjane Kabula, a vendor at Zingwangwa Market in Blantyre, Thursday said mounting demand coupled with a shortage of the grain is what is driving up maize prices in recent weeks.
“Maize stocks have fallen significantly in recent weeks across the country. That has resulted in us buying the grain at higher prices where we get it. Most of the maize is being obtained across the borders in Mozambique and Zambia,” Kabula said.
At Kawale in Lilongwe, the grain was selling at an average price of K17,000 per 50 kg bag yesterday.
Amos Chilambe, a vendor in Kawale, said the sharp rise in maize prices is due to the acute shortage of the commodity on the market.
“I can say it is normal for maize prices to be at their highest in January and February as it is the peak of the lean period. Similarly, we expect maize prices to start falling end March.
“Of course, the prices are too high this year because, unlike other years, the country did not produce a lot of the grain last year,” Chilambe said.
In Mzuzu City, the grain was trading between K6,500 to K7,000 per 20-litre bucket (around 20 kg), which is around K16,500 to K17,000 per 50 kg bag.
Softer prices were reported in Mzimba, Chitipa and Karonga as the grain is hovering around K13,500 per 50 kg bag but prospects of the prices going up are high.
“Cost of transportation is high and the demand is high as well, this will obviously inflate the prices,” said Willes Msowoya, a vendor at Chitipa Boma,
Since December 2019, vendors in Mangochi have been selling maize at K20,000 per 50 kg bag.
Those buying in small quantities are buying the grain at K400 per kg.
However, the prices have started falling from mid January.
Consumers buying a 50 kg bag are buying at K18,000 while those buying in small quantities are still buying at K400 per kg.
Despite selling the commodity at a lower price, most Admarc depots in Mangochi are not readily stocked with maize.
This month alone, Mangochi Admarc has had maize for only one week in which people were being allowed to buy 20 kg only.
Secretary for Agriculture Gray Nyandule Phiri Wednesday said government is convinced the country has considerable stocks of maize being held by private entities, including individual traders, cooperatives and associations.
Phiri said the hoarding of the maize stocks has resulted in some parts of the country falling into a food insecurity trap due to declining supply which has pushed retail prices up, making the grain unaffordable to the majority of consumers.
He said government has since increased the buying price of maize from K250 per kg to K310 per kg up to February 29.
Despite the sharp rise this year, local food prices remain relatively lower than prices in the region, being second lowest to South Africa, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
IFPRI says the highest price was reported in Bujumbura (Burundi) followed by Kimironko (Rwanda), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Maputo (Mozambique).
Safex, the main grain futures market in South Africa, recorded the lowest prices.
“By the end of December, prices in Malawi remained lower than in most eastern and southern Africa markets. However, prices in Lunzu Market near Blantyre were higher than in Kampala (Uganda), Nairobi (Kenya) and Lusaka (Zambia) while prices in Malawi’s Mitundu Market were higher than in Lusaka (Zambia),” IFPRI says.
Meanwhile, a recent food situation assessment report by Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee said the number of people facing hunger in the country has increased from 1.1 million to 1.9 million, according to a second assessment which the committee conducted last November.
The assessment shows that the number of people in need of food aid has increased from 1,062,674t o 1,879,391 across the country.
The increase, according to the report, is due to the prevailing situation on the ground that differs from the assumptions made in June 2019.
Among other situations, which have resulted in the increase, is insufficient maize on the market.
This, the report says, is contributing to unprecedented price increases as private traders withhold stocks in anticipation of higher prices. —Additional reporting by Feston Malekezo & Yohane Symon