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Maize smugglers ply Lake Malawi routes

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SMUGGLERS of maize into neighbouring Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo are reportedly turning to the less patrolled waters of Lake Malawi to externalise the grain in the wake of a ban by government.

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security Sam Madula confirmed the development and said the new tactics are challenging since the marine department of the Malawi Police is incapacitated.

The Sunday Times has gathered that the unscrupulous traders are using boats and canoes to get the maize out of Malawi through Nkhata Bay at a fee of about K500 per 50 Kilogrammes. A cargo boat operator in Nkhata Bay Misheck Mpata confirmed the new business exploits but expressed ignorance on the final destination of the grain.

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“We have been carrying loads of maize to the Tanzanian shores of the lake in recent times, but I can’t tell whether these are legal or illegal traders. We are in the transport business so their eligibility is not much of our concern,” explained Mpata.

He said the traders prefer the Nkhata Bay route because it is cheaper as compared to the Karonga outlet. The vendors are buying the maize from Dowa, Kasungu and Lilongwe among other districts at a price of K70 per kilogramme. The traders sell the grain at a profit to the East African countries where it fetches an average price of K300 per kilogramme.

Madula said government has a task to capacitate the marine departments of the police and the army for them to adequately safeguard the water boundaries.

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“We haven’t got formal reports on the matter but I believe the smugglers are capitalising on the lack of intensified patrols on the lake. We are fully aware of the challenges that our marine police officers are facing and we are working on sealing all the routes by providing them with the necessary resources,” he said.

At the time of the interview on Wednesday, Madula had scheduled a meeting with the Inspector General of Police Lexton Kachama regarding the matter.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture Aggrey Masi said he was concerned with the development amidst reports that the country may not harvest the required 3.2 million metric tonnes of the grain due to armyworms and erratic rainfall.

In recent months, government has taken a serious stance against the illegal exportation of maize and by The Sunday Times own counting based on official reports, about 40 trucks suspected of carrying the prohibited grain out of Malawi have been detained in Karonga and Chitipa districts.

Meanwhile, Police officers who are suspected to aid the externalisation of the grain are standing trial in court, while none of the suspected soldiers has been arrested despite several reports.

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