A lot has been reported about the damage last growing season’s heavy rains caused to farmlands. Fields and young plants that were doing well were washed away leaving most of the land bear, leached or water logged.
The situation became out of hand when no chance to re-plant as in most cases, could be found due to the seriousness of the damage the livid running waters caused.
In no time, the government of Malawi through relevant departments such as the Department of Disaster preparedness of Malawi (DODMA),Ministry of Agriculture and other notable civil society organizations (NGOs) such as the World Vision and others led by the office of the vice president wasted no time but went around to assess the gravity of the situation.
The young crops that started very well all together with rough estimates pegging the final crop to around 3.5 million metric tonnes went down to 2.776,277 metric tonnes according to results of an agricultural estimate survey conducted by the ministry of agriculture.
This meant, for a country that needed a total of 3 million metric tonnes of maize, was 300 thousand kilogrammes less.
The government rushed to financially empowering two of its main grain administrators the agricultural development corporation (ADMARC) and the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) to use any means and procure the much needed grain to fill up the gap.
In the last seating of parliament, the Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe announced that government has made a decision to allow Admarc to borrow from commercial banks of its choice a total of K4.8 billion to be used in the procurement of the much needed maize.
By its nature, after the review of the organisation’s Act in parliament a few years back, ADMARC seized to be a typical parastatal thereby stopping it from enjoying budgetary allocations although whilst remaining 100 percent shareheld by government..
The permission to borrow from commercial banks gave the grain marketer muscles to start planning for the national task which went to the fields to start purchasing the maize using its own resources before embarking on the loan hunt.
This according to Admarc officials was in an attempt to mop out the much needed grain before being overtaken by competitors which in this case are the private traders.
Initially ADMARC had planned to purchase 100,000 metric tonnes of maize, with half of it sourced locally whilst the other half was planned to be sourced from neighboring Zambia.
However, due to supply shortage by the supplier in Zambia, the imported lot has since been reduced to 35,000 metric tonnes, 15,000 shy. The local purchase has as well been reduced from 50,000 metric tonnes to 30 thousand.
The maize has since started triclking into the country with an average of 23 trucks carrying 160 bags of the grain each coming from Zambia each day. According to ADMARC officials, 1000 trucks of the maize are expected to import the grain before end of September.
On the other hand, after compilation of notes on the assessment of gravity caused by the floods by DODMA, under the disaster response recovery programme, Malawi government signed an agreement with World Bank to release a grant of $15,000,000 or MK8.1 billion at current rate to purchase maize and keep in the strategic grain reserves.
According to NFRA, it plans to purchase 50,000 metric tonnes of the maize to add onto its unallocated 36,000 metric tonnes.
NFRA which is not widely spread thoughour the country as ADMARC and works as a humanitarian institution responding to emergency food calls by its nature, has since engaged the services of Auction Holdings Commodity Exchange (AHL-CX) to procure the maize on its behalf.
With the above arrangement, if we use simple mathematics based on the statistics provided by the MoA that the country has produced 2.77 million kilogrammes, plus the 35,000 metric tonnes being sourced from Zambia and 36,000 unallocated lot from the SGRs, the country should have around 2.8 million available by the end of September which coincidentally is the period the wrath of the food shortage is expected to begin.
The source of the anticipated 50,000 metric tonnes to be sourced by NFRA is not as the Agency has made it open to either buy from locals or outside the country.
Basing on the above calculations, the country still has a shortage of around 200 thousand metric tonnes for it to be declared food secure.
It could have been commendable if NFRA had fetched the said grain from outside the country because that way, the scramble from the official 2.7 million tonnes would be reduced thereby making an addition which will ultimately fill up the gap.
But the major question is on how the maize being stocked by the two institutions will be made available to the country during time of need and it will be handled so that it does not land in wrong hands.
There are several unfounded fears that most Malawians have towards the two institutions – ADMARC and NFRA in terms of ease of accessing the grain.
Some quarters say ADMARC, being an open marketer is prone to abuse where private traders would buy in bulk and resell at higher prices. Other claims state that ADMARC, due to its nature is vulnerable to political interference.
Whilst others described the process used in releasing the maize from the NFRA SGRs as being beauralcratic and cumbersome due to the involvement of donors during draw down.
NFRA Chief Executive Officer Nasinuku Saukira defended his organisation saying NFRA follows procedures that were scientifically and technically proven as feasible.
He says despite being fully owned by government, NFRA has a technical committee comprising government ministries, donors and notable NGOs who agree when and how much maize should be released upon need.
Saukira stresses that NFRA as a humanitarian institution, only responds to emergencies upon need after proper assessments are conducted.
“If there is need to expedite the situation, we can even meet at mid night, there is nothing like crossing corners because we are expected to account at the end of the day” said Saukira
Saukira’s sentiments were echoed by Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Erica Maganga who says donors are just part of what is called Strategic Grain Reserve and Commercial Maize Committee, which like all other members of the committee, they provide their inputs in the general discussion that lead to approval or disapproval of draw down of grain from the SGR.
“The truth of the matter is that before any drawdown of grain from the SGR is approved, the members of the SGR and Commercial Maize Committee want to be sure who will replenish such grain in the SGR. This is in line with laid out procedures for grain drawdown from the SGR” She says
ADMARC’s Chief Executive Officer Foster Mulumbe explains that his organisation has planned to start rationing of the grain right from the onset of re-opening of its selling markets in order to control bulk purchasing.
“We will make the life of the private traders difficult, our number one priority is to sell to Malawians for consumption,” says Mulumbe
He therefore advises Malawians not to panic when the rationing starts to think that the country is getting depleted of its staple.
Maganga also stresses the need for ADMARC to operationalise rationing when its sells begin saying that is the only way bulk buying is curbed.
She says government has announced minimum farm gate prices to provide an indication to smallholder producers on the appropriate prices to offer to vendors.
“Government has also allowed ADMARC to buy from farmers at reasonable prices to ensure that no farmers are reaped off,” Says Maganga says
Executive Director of Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) |Tamani Nkhono whilst describing the relationship between ADMARC and NFRA as symbiotic, suggests a change in the set-up of ADMARC to enhance its independence and be able to make decisions on its own.
“At times ADMARC is forced to sell the grain at a very low prices due to its subjection to political interference” says Nkhono
Tamani among others suggests that government should consider reducing its shareholding on Admarc to 40 percent and allow other players in the private sector control the remaining stake.
He also suggests to NFRA to work with ADMARC by using some of its structures in during the replenishment exercise than transporting it the SGRs and back to the rural areas during time of need.
“The two should work together because their mandate compliments each other very well,” said Nkhono
But with all that said, Malawians are hopeful that the laid out plans will materialize and save the nation from the bites of the imminent hunger.
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues