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FAO cautions Malawi over maize source

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The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has cautioned Malawi against putting its full hope on neighbouring countries as a source from where it can procure supplementary maize stocks.

The warning comes as the government as well as local and international aid agencies await the release of a consolidated Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) report on the food situation in the country next week.

Mvac, a multi-agency body mandated by government to conduct vulnerability assessment and analysis in Malawi, conducts two main scheduled assessments in the months of June and October every year but these are inter-spaced with regular food security monitoring as the food consumption year progresses.

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President Peter Mutharika declared the country a disaster nation last month owing to the precarious food situation in the country this year.

In an interview with Business Day, a South African daily and online paper, Jonathan Pound, an economist who monitors the Sothern African region at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said where Malawi would get the supplementary maize it requires remains a puzzle.

“In terms of where they will get [maize] from, this is a big question, because many surrounding countries are also facing shortfalls in supply,” Pound is quoted as saying.

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He said although Malawi’s smaller than normal harvest will help replenish food supplies for a while this year, the nation wants to import more now before stockpiles tighten again at the end of the year.

Malawi’s 2015/16 agricultural season has suffered heavily from the impacts of El Nino, a condition which has also affected almost the entire Southern African region, rendering it short of food.

Secretary for Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Erica Maganga hinted recently that government would be looking as far as Central America and Ukraine for maize.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development says Malawi needs at least K258 billion to implement short and medium term means of addressing the hunger and food insecurity.

Deputy Director in the Department of Economic Planning and Development who also speaks for the department, Jollam Innocent Banda, has said the long awaited report detailing the number of food stressed households, how much money will be required to cushion them from the situation and the affected districts will be released next week.

He said on Thursday that a team of officers is already back from the field and that the report is currently being compiled.

Malawi is going into a second successive year of food shortage. Last season’s agricultural production was affected by floods and then drought that hit most parts of the country leading to up to 2.8 million people being left in need of food aid.

As for the 2016/17 season, late onset of rains and then a prolonged dry spell has led to failure of Malawi staple crop, maize.

The second round Agricultural Production Estimates Survey which the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development undertook between mid- February and March this year estimates maize production for the season to be at 2.4 million metric tonnes.

This represents 12.4 percent decline in production as compared to the 2014/2015 final round estimate of 2.7 million metric tonnes.

According to the government, the country’s maize requirement for human consumption, seed, stock feed, and industrial use is currently estimated at 3.2 million metric tonnes, which means the country will this year face a maize deficit of 1.07 million metric tonnes.

In his statement declaring the state of disaster in April, Mutharika said considering the magnitude of the projected maize production deficit, and the resultant food insecurity that the country will face, there is need to re-stock the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) with about 250,000 metric tonnes as buffer stock during the season.

He also said parastatal grain marketer Admarc would require a total of 250,000 metric tonnes of maize to sell to the general public and effectively stabilise maize prices in the 2016/2017 season.

Among the responses, government called for bids from the private sector to get into irrigation farming to produce maize.

Admarc has also called for private traders to supply it with 250,000 metric tonnes, apart from that it will also purchase 60,000 metric tonnes from small scale farmers.

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