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Hunger speculation impacts maize prices

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Prices for the country’s staple food, maize, have surged by 78 percent hitting K160 per kg or K8,000 per 50 kilogramme (kg) bag in selected townships in Blantyre as speculation on looming hunger is intensifying following a double impact of dry spell and Fall Armyworms.

A snap survey conducted by The Daily Times in Blantyre on Monday revealed that prices of the commodity have surged from an average of K4,500 per 50kg bag in January to between K7,500 and K8, 000 per bag.

A visit to Manase, Nancholi and Baluti Townships on Monday revealed that maize was being sold at K160 per kilogramme or K8,000 per 50kg bag while vendors in Chilobwe, Zingwangwa and Ndirande, vendors were trading the staple food at K7,500.

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Agnes Kalumpha, a vendor at Manase Market said on Monday prices have risen in Dedza and Ntcheu, where they get the maize.

She said vendors are now fetching maize at a wholesale price of K6,500 per 50kg bag, which is jumping above K7,000 when transport and other costs are factored in.

“Maize is slowly becoming scarce where we get it. In fact, we are selling at a giveaway price, just to remain in business,” she said.

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Another merchant, Rodrick Wales, attributed the significant jump in the price of maize to mounting demand for the commodity.

Wales said of late, pressure has been mounting on maize following speculations that the country may experience hunger in the coming months.

“The logic behind the price jump is simple. We are getting the maize at a higher price and we are passing on the higher price to the consumer,” Wales said.

Charity Gondwe, a vendor at Zingwangwa Market claimed they are buying the maize in Zambia, following a scarcity of the commodity in the country.

Gondwe claimed the looming hunger has forced many growers to withdraw the product from the market as they wait to make a killing when hunger strikes, probably towards the end of 2018.

In Chiradzulu, the commodity was reported to be selling at around K130 per kg or K6,500 per 50kg bag.

Softer maize prices were recorded in Lilongwe, where the grain was trading at K120 per kg or K6,000 per 50kg bag at Kawale Produce Market.

When contacted yesterday, Agriculture Development and Marketing Agency (Admarc) Chief Executive Officer, Margaret Loka, could neither confirm or reject whether Admarc had made any changes to its prices for the staple.

Last year Admarc had set a price of K12,500 for a 50kg bag of maize.

But Loka first referred us to the Ministry of Agriculture and when quizzed further said the agency would make an announcement, when new prices are agreed.

The surge in maize prices should be a concern to authorities, as this is likely to exert added pressure on inflation.

The surge in maize prices comes barely a week after the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) approved a 25 percent electricity tariff hike by the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom).

President Peter Mutharika recently indicated that Capital Hill is aware of the misery the combined effect of a dryspell and Fall Armyworms will bring on Malawians.

Mutharika was, however, quick to point out that no Malawian would die of hunger as authorities continue to stock enough food to hedge against the shocks.

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