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Silent Purge

NFRA starved of maize purchase funding for 2 years

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QUERIED NFRA OFFICIALS— Suleman

The National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) is now in its second season without purchasing maize for storage in strategic grain reserves.

This is coming at a time the Treasury has, in the 2022-23 National Budget, set aside K12 billion for the purchase of the grain, which was initially meant to be shared between Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) and NFRA but the funds will not trickle down to the agency.

However, Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu said NFRA will not buy maize this year because the ministry received a directive from Parliament not to give money to the agency for the purchase of maize.

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He said the ministry takes orders from Parliament, which dictates how money in the budget should be utilised.

“It is the Agriculture Committee [of Parliament] that made the recommendation that the task of buying maize should be solely in the hands of Admarc and, after they are done with buying [the commodity], the maize should be sent to NFRA for storage. They argued that the role of NFRA was to store maize but not getting involved in purchasing maize,” Lungu said.

NFRA Board Chairperson Dennis Kalekeni corroborated the ministry’s sentiments.

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He said, since last year, NFRA had not received any allocation for the purchase of maize.

He said, if it gets an allocation, the agency would buy grain from small-scale farmers who have formed cooperatives.

“The money for the purchase of maize does not come directly to us. It goes to the ministry. It is up to the ministry to decide on how much money to give to NFRA.

“But, as you are aware, last year we got nothing for maize purchase; so, we are not certain if, this year, we will receive anything,” Kalekeni said.

Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture Vice Chairperson Ulemu Chilapondwa said the committee plays an oversight role but does not tell the government how to use allocations.

He said, in the case of Admarc and NFRA, the committee only reminded the government about the mandates of the two companies.

“NFRA is for storage of the grain while Admarc is the one which is mandated to buy produce from local farmers in the remotest parts of the country.

“After thorough consultations and investigations, we came up with a suggestion that Admarc should be given funds to buy produce from farmers as opposed to NFRA. We never gave a directive. Truly, there is a difference between a directive and a suggestion,” Chilapondwa said.

Agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said both NFRA and Admarc deserved to get subventions from the government.

“NFRA is a statutory corporation that needs to get subventions from the government as well. It is also used as an instrument for buying and keeping the maize. I don’t think Admarc has that capacity to handle all the processes alone,” Mvula said.

Recently, the Agriculture Committee of Parliament summoned NFRA officials to explain how they spent around K4 billion allocated for the maintenance of maize silos in the country.

Committee chairperson Sameer Suleman said they found it questionable that, after pocketing the funds, the agency was failing to bring to life Mzuzu and Luchenza silos, which have not been functioning since their commissioning in 2010.

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