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Maize smugglers beat government’s ban

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While the country’s formal water transport systems are said to be largely underutilised, boat operators up North are finding joy by aiding the smuggling of maize, which is a staple food in Malawi, to neighbouring countries

By Feston Malekezo

At the time the country has low production of maize and is facing hunger between October and March 2023, Malawi News can report that maize and other cash crops are illegally being exported to neighbouring countries of Zambia and Tanzania.

Ministry of Agriculture confirms that the ban on maize exportation as announced earlier is still in force.

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The development also comes at a time when Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe has temporarily shut down Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) operations and that National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) is yet to flood the market to buy maize from farmers.

This has left farmers particularly, in the Northern Region, with one alternative—vendors.

Robert Mkandawire, a farmer from Mpherembe in Mzimba, said the delay by the government through Admarc and NFRA to start procuring maize from the farmers has given vendors a platform to buy from them at prices as low as K200 per kilogramme.

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Government set the minimum buying price of maize at K300 per kilogramme.

“We fear that this would create room for hunger in the country because once these vendors have procured the maize from us, they are selling in neighbouring country Tanzania.

“It would have been good if the maize was sold to our Admarc or NFRA because we would easily buy from them when need arises,” he said.

Another farmer, Charles Kanyama from Mzimba North said the problem is that the vendors are buying the grain at very low prices.

Kanyama said even though NFRA said it has started buying maize, their depots are far from the communities.

“They are commonly found in the cities and towns. It is a bit expensive to carry my ten bags of maize and sell in town. Eventually, I end up selling the maize to the vendors who are readily available. The problem is they are buying at low prices but we have no alternative,” he said.

At Ekwendeni Trading Centre piles of maize, groundnuts and soya bags are stacked on the roadside of M1 Road ready for transportation to Karonga enroute to Tanzania.

Speaking in camera, one of the vendors said he was buying from the farmers at prices between K200 and K220 and sells to another vendor in Karonga at K330 per kg who sells at an even higher price in Tanzania.

At Ntakisya River in Karonga District, for example, the commodities are moved in and outside the country using canoes.

One of ten canoe operators Ambokima Blessings said this was a busy point in terms of smuggling of items across the border.

“This is a very busy place. Commodities such as maize, groundnuts and soya among others come from Malawi to Tanzania and from other side goods such as fizzy drinks go to Malawi…

“Charges depend on goods but for individuals we charge K500 and the fare reaches K2,000 per person when it rains,” he said.

NRFA Chief Executive Officer Brenda Kayongo could not speak to us as she said she was in a meeting.

However, the agency started maize procurement last month and it is expected to buy 50,000 metric tonnes of maize from farmers after the government disbursed K12 billion in July this year to NFRA.

According to official records, Malawi’s maize harvest has gone down to 3.7 million metric tonnes as compared to the 4.5 million metric tonnes realised in the 2020-21 agriculture year.

There are also fears that 3.8 million people would be food insecure from October to March 2023.

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