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Mixed reactions to maize exports

Maize

Sosten Gwengwe

The Ministry of Trade’s decision to start issuing export licences for maize has attracted mixed reactions, with opponents saying it is too early to ignite maize exports.

The ministry indicates, in a statement it issued on Monday, that the decision was made to create storage room for this year’s harvest.

It further says exportation of maize would not affect the food security situation in the country due to a projected bumper maize harvest for the 2020/21 farming season following successful implementation of the Affordable Input Programme.

“The ministry wishes to stress that the maize export licences will only be issued to exporters with proof of verifiable maize stocks from the previous agricultural season. The licences to be granted will have a validity period of three months from the date of issue.

“The exporter will be required to undertake a commitment to inform the ministry about the export proceeds received after 180 days from the date of export,” the statement reads.

But, while acknowledging that exporting excess maize through licensed traders would be a good idea, agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said the idea had its disadvantages.

“What will happen if we have outbreaks like army worms or locusts that can destroy the current crop. What if we have further drought to derail progress of the current crop? Additionally what will be the basis of giving the tonnage for exports?” Mvula wondered.

He added: “We need to learn from history, there was a time we once rushed to export maize in around 1999 just to create a serious shortage in the country leading to famine, the same also happened in around 2006 when we donated maize to Zimbabwe on a pretext of a bumper harvest as such we need to be careful on this. My suggestion is that if we want to start exporting, then that should be done after we harvested the current crop and we are sure of the surplus.”

Concurring with Mvula, National Director for the Civil Society Agriculture Network Pamela Kuwali said there are a number of things that must happen before we begin to export.

“Government should first make sure that the strategic grain reserves are well stocked, farmers must be sensitised not to sell all their stock but to reserve enough maize for their families,” Kuwali said.

However, the decision has excited grain traders in the country.

Grain Traders and Processors Association (GTPA) of Malawi President Grace Mijiga Mhango said evidently there were enough stocks being held by the government.

She indicated that, as at last week Friday, National Food Reserve Agency and Admarc had about 152,000 metric tonnes in between them, which is a record stock-holding position by government since 2010.

“GTPA members are holding about 60,000 tonnes and I am sure non-GTPA members could be holding a reasonable quantity of maize. Mind you, the government has only authorised exports from last season and their procedure is strictly to export verified commodities.

“Looking at the crop in the Central and Northern regions, which are areas that produce a lot of maize, the crop-stand is too good to doubt the surplus. We are aware of some parts in the Southern Region with challenges but these areas do not produce enough maize every year. The expected bumper yields in the Central Region will easily cover them,” Mhango said.

In a separate interview, Minister of Minister of Trade Sosten Gwengwe said the maize stocks from last year would dampen prices further after the harvesting season starts, which will be detrimental to the farmers, hence the move.

“We are exporting some tonnage from last year. We are verifying stocks before issuing licences. Once the agreed tonnage is reached, we will stop and wait for procedures for the new harvest,” Gwengwe said.

According to Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Grecian Lungu, the country had excess maize amounting to 485,712 metric tonnes last year.

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