The Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama) has warned the government to tread carefully when opening the maize export window over fears that the country could plunge into a food crisis.
This follows worries among farmers and parliamentarians that agriculture productivity is likely to decline next year, owing to the increase in prices of fertiliser.
Fertiliser prices went up by 73.9 percent in July to K40,000 per 50 kilogramme (kg) bag from K23,000 the preceding month, raising fears that poor farmers may not be able to purchase the commodity.
Ecama Executive Director Frank Chikuta said rising prices of fertiliser were a risk to agriculture productivity in the coming season, which could affect economic growth prospects and food security in the country.
“Given this emerging risk, maize exports should be done with due regard to the national food requirements. That is to say, we should only export the excess after keeping enough for the country’s annual requirement and reserves, which act as a buffer when there is low production,” Chikuta said.
In a separate interview, agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said the country’s soil was so degraded that it could not produce much without applying fertilisers.
“With the reduced access to fertiliser, it is very obvious that most of the farmers will not be able to harvest what could have been harvested because, at the current price of fertiliser, most Malawian farmers will not be able to buy and, with the reduced number of beneficiaries under the Affordable Input Programme (AIP), then there will be a challenge,” Mvula said.
But Ministry of Trade spokesperson Mayeso Msokera said maize exports depend on endorsement from the Ministry of Agriculture upon reviewing the food balance sheet.
“If at all there will be a window for maize exports, it will be upon scrutiny of the food balance sheet and only excess maize will be exported,” Msokera said.
Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Grecian Lungu said that the government was hopeful that, next harvesting season, the country would meet the national food requirement of 3.3 million metric tonnes of maize.
He said, all things being equal, all smallholder farmers will still be reached with subsidised fertiliser under the AIP.
“We are very optimistic that those household farming families we intend to target are going to maximise production and be able to produce the required national maize tonnage together with medium and large scale farmers with integration with manure which the Ministry through Land Resource Management Department is promoting.
“Basing on our food balance sheet, the 1.2 million metric tonnes excess maize needs to be exported because, we are going to keep enough maize in our grain reserves that can be used when the need arises,” Lungu said.