Maize prices have been rising steadily in the country for the past five years, reaching a record K19,500 per 50 kilogramme (kg) in some parts.
Ironically, prices of the Malawi’s staple commodity continue to rise despite the country being off the lean season.
Figures from the International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri) show that, in May 2018, soon after harvest, maize prices averaged K98 per kg representing K4,900 per 50kg bag while in December 2018, during the lean period, prices reached K124 per kg (K6,200 per 50 kg).
In May 2019, a Kg of maize was being sold at K163 per kg (K8,150 per 50 kg) but rose to K254 per kg (K12,700 per 50 kg).
However, maize prices moderated in 2020 when, after harvest in May, a Kg was fetching K168 (K8,400 per 50 kg) and rose to K196 per kg (K9,800 per 50 kg) in November.
Last year after harvest, the prices fell to K127 per kg (K6,350 per 50 kg) but rose to K146 per kg (K7,300 per 50 kg).
The Ifpri figures show that in January this year maize prices averaged K191 per kg (K9,550 per 50 kg). Bur unlike the trend in the other years, the prices kept rising to K204 per kg (K10,200 per 50 kg bag).
But a snap survey conducted by The Daily Times show that at Vigwagwa market in Mzuzu a 50 kg bag is fetching K19,500, in Chilomoni Township in Blantyre the same quantity is at K18,500, in Mangochi at K17,000 and in Area 25 in Lilongwe at K15,000.
African Institute for Corporate Citizenship Chief Executive Officer Driana Lwanda said the main triggers for the price movement remains mismatches between demand and supply.
“The rise in production cost is another factor that triggers pricing. The increased cost of fertiliser and seed and rising costs of labour increased the production cost of the commodity. This increased the price of the same.
“With the current economic challenges and the rising cost of living, it is not easy to think that commodity prices will go down. The effects of the Russia-Ukraine war on key inputs like fertiliser make it difficult to determine any chances of commodity prices drop,” he said.
Agriculture expert Leonard Chimwaza said tight regulation of maize prices by the government through the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) should help contain the trend.
“We need to have other alternative food stuffs available in Malawi. This will give many Malawians a wide choice of foodstuffs, reducing pressure on maize as the only source of food,” Chimwaza said.
In a separate interview, another expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said there is a need to check all production bottlenecks such as the increase in prices of inputs like fertilisers and ensures climate shock resilience to ensure sustained supply of the commodity in all markets across the country.
In the 2022-23 National Budget, the government indicated that K12 billion has been allocated for maize purchases by the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) and Admarc to replenish the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR) as part of the total allocation to the agriculture sector.
But recently, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that it would provide funds to NFRA to conduct the maize purchase exercise to restock the SGR.