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Excess maize in Germany, largely just for animal feed

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Amazing that in some of the countries that produce maize in abundance, people are not the largest consumer of the grain.

In Germany, for example, they produce around five million metric tonnes of maize annually, which is four to five times what Malawi produces. And because of consumer demands and aggressiveness of the environmental activists, the maize produced in Germany is organic – not genetically modified as is the case in other advanced countries in Europe and America.

Most of the maize produce in German is used for animal feed, specifically for poultry, cattle and pigs. Some of it is used for the production of by-products such as starch and breakfast cereals. As a renewable raw material, maize starch is used in the manufacture of paper and cardboard.

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Germany is also a major driver in the expansion of biofuel and uses maize and other crops in the production of fuels such as ethanol.

Use of biofuels is expected to increase in Germany as a result of the switch in biofuels mandates from being based on energy content to greenhouse gas (GHG) savings. Based on the GHG savings, this new scheme is anticipated to create a preference for ethanol above biodiesel.

How the maize will be used determines the procedure for cultivation. In Germany, maize is grown as grain maize – where ripe grain is harvested and used as feed or for industrial processing, ear maize or maize for silage which is a corn-cob-mix or maize meal with husks used exclusively for feed and is normally not as ripe because harvesting begins earlier.

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Parts of the maize ear as well as the husks surrounding the maize ear are harvested. They are crushed and preserved in a humid environment and used as a high-energy feed. Feed maize is harvested as a whole plant, chopped into small pieces and preserved as basic forage even if the maize grains are not yet quite ripe.

Travelling last week by road from Frankfurt Airport to small city called Karlsrule, a distance of 158 kilometres through the rural stretch passing through Mainz, Mannheim and Heidelberg, then from Karlsrule to Hannover, a distance of 481.6 kilometres through the Lower Saxony regions of Germany, one could not help but admire the vast and healthy fields of maize in a country where it hardly features on the dining tables.

While most of the fields are rain-fed, benefiting from the all-year-round rainfall patterns in Europe, irrigation is also a large component in Germany agriculture. Large dams and imposing irrigation systems can be seen as you pass through the farms.

In Malawi, maize is a lifeline. People depend on it for food while the country relies on it for economic management as it is a major driver of inflation, which also influences both interest rates and the exchange rate.

It is, therefore, a crop that should be grown strategically through proper planning and management to make sure that it is produced in right quantities for both food and industrial usage. Apart from human consumption, maize in Malawi is also, to some extent, used in animal feed, breweries and sometimes for export.

Yet, the crop is grown largely on subsistence level and depends on rain for its cultivation. The rural farmers are hardly empowered to produce the crop sustainably as for the past 10 years, maize production has been supported with the Farm Input Subsidy Programme, whose efficiency and continuity is very suspect.

Without adequate rainfall, yields plummet and the country ends up importing large quantities, spending huge budgetary resources and foreign exchange which should – with good and visionary planning, have been used for investments in irrigation and extension services.

Yields are very low as farmers produce it inefficiently, using archaic methods and sometimes recycled seed.

Malawi needs to have a clear policy and strategy on the production of maize. It should be produced in the best way possible so that it adequately supports both subsistence and economic needs of the country. And Malawi should always be a food basket for the region, exporting maize to deficit countries around Africa.

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