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Pressure mounts on government to suspend maize exports

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Mayeso Msokera

Calls are getting louder for the government to consider suspending issuance of maize export licences to traders for fear of hunger that may devastate citizens and the entire economy in the event of low production of the crop in the current growing season.

This comes against the background that, early last month, the government, through the Ministry of Trade resumed issuing maize export licences following an updated national food balance sheet of June 30 2021.

The balance sheet indicated that the country is food sufficient, with enough stocks to last until the next harvest.

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“The government has, therefore, opened a window for export of 500,000 metric tonnes of maize grain which is part of the surplus for 2020/2021 agricultural season harvest,” a statement published by the ministry reads.

In a recent interview, spokesperson in the ministry Mayeso Msokera said, so far, five companies have obtained licences amounting to 15,000 metric tonnes.

But members of the public in Blantyre, during a programme called ‘Zakukhosi’ aired on Times Radio over the weekend, said the sporadic rains that the country is receiving is an indication that the country will not produce enough maize in the current growing season.

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Patrick Michongwe from Chrimba Township said recent increases in maize prices is an indication that there is low supply of the commodity on the market and, therefore, the government should hold on to the stocks.

“There is no maize in Admarc depots; it is vendors that have the stocks and recently they have been increasing the prices to the current K10,500 per 50 kilogramme bag. If the government has maize now is the time to make it accessible,” Michongwe said.

Another contributor to the programme, Alick Mhone, said, usually in January, maize is quite developed in the fields but the fact that most people are yet to plant entails a disruption in the crop’s supply in coming months.

In an interview, President of the Grain Traders and Producers Association Grace Mijiga Mhango said figures from the ministry portraying an increase in production in the last season were misleading.

“Firstly, we didn’t harvest what they said we harvested; secondly, whether we suspend exports formally we must know that informally the crop is leaving this country for export markets. The medium to long term solution is that we – private traders and the government – should put our stocks together and assess the situation in January or February before committing the crop to export markets,” Mijiga said.

In a separate interview, Director for Centre for Research and Consultancy Milward Tobiasi said the economic value of the maize exports is not as significant as preserving the commodity in the country.

“They are talking about $150 million after the exports which is less than a month of import cover; it does not make sense to me. We cannot continue to treat maize as an export crop. Imagine if we indeed face hunger and would want the same amount of maize, I bet we would spend more than $150 million,” Tobiasi said.

But in a fresh interview on Monday, Msokera said the maize export licence window remains open as the authorities assess the situation.

“The window for maize exports is still open. However, the ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and relevant government agencies, is reviewing the situation on the ground and in due course an appropriate decision would be made,” Msokera said.

Spokesperson in the Ministry of Agriculture Grecian Lungu could not respond to our questionnaire before we went to press.

A snap survey conducted by The Daily Times found that prices of maize have gone up in Blantyre reaching between K10,000 and K10,500 per 50 kg bag while in Lilongwe, Zomba and Mangochi the price is ranging between K8,000 and K8,500 for the same quantity and in Mzuzu a 50 kg bag is fetching K7,500.

Maize is Malawi’s staple crop and contributes about 42.5 percent to the food basket.

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