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Wake up Dr Chaponda; this sleeping is aggravating hunger

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Malawi recently issued an SOS on the hunger situation. At last count, this hunger was threatening at least half of us. 8.5 million of us to be precise.

I will not dwell on the initial denial nor the inexplicable act of utter buffoonery by the parliamentarian of Salima Central Constituency broadcast live on MBC Tv, who was waving four dry cobs of maize to prove his case; when everyone else knew otherwise.

The irony is that while the Salima legislator was at pains to deride those that have been urging action on maize unavailability and hunger; the very government he was trying hard to please, was in fact, tripling the number of those threatened by hunger.

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Anyway, I will let gold diggers be.

Moving on to the matter I want to offer as food for thought today in the absence of food as we know it, policy is the natural starting point.

After making a policy U-turn on the widely known fact that maize was scarce, the Minister of Agriculture George Chaponda lied to chiefs that the government will intensify purchase of food.

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Admitting existence of logistical challenges, he said action is being taken to enhance the capacity of Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) and the National Food Reserve Agency to ensure the staple grain is available in all areas of the country.

Other than empowering Admarc and NFRA to purchase maize directly from farmers and private traders, he waxed lyrical that Admarc and NFRA would, on top of buying locally, extend their procurement to include countries like Brazil and Mexico.

The blue eyed minister brazenly harangued the chiefs:

“Admarc has already begun buying maize from the farmers and traders. They have the money and we will keep giving them the funds for the process. They will not only be buying from the local markets but also international markets.”

You want to know the truth?

Spot checks conducted in different parts of the country by The Daily Times crew over the past three weeks have revealed that whatever plans and actions the minister was referring to, are being implemented on planet Mars.

In Malawi, vendors, mounting their kinked scales in some remotest parts, are buying maize from farmers who either have no Admarc depots nearby, or where there is one it has no money with which to buy maize.

“We are just hearing that Admarc was given money to purchase maize but we have not seen any Admarc depot where we can sell our maize,” Joyce Luhanga of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kambwiri in Salima told The Daily Times, adding that many other poor households are selling the little they have to vendors.

“These vendors will be coming back to sell the maize to us at exorbitant prices, but there is nothing we can do because we need salt, cooking oil, relish and many other things,” lamented Luhanga.

These sentiments were repeated in many other parts of the Central Region including Dowa, Lilongwe, Mchinji and Kasungu. Similar reports came from parts of the northern and the southern regions.

Now, who should I believe? Madam Joyce Luhanga or the good minister?

My take is: let us not be too harsh on the Minister of Agriculture and rush to call him names. I should admit that a couple of weeks ago, I would have been the first to condemn him, but now, I sort of understand him.

In fact, by letting the minister off the hook so lightly, it is not that I am giving him the benefit of doubt at all. No. He has earned it.

I have merely arrived at a logical conclusion, given the incontrovertible evidence he provided on Friday, May 20th in full view of video and still cameras.

Never mind his refutation that the cameras lied and pictures were doctored; those who know him well will agree that, had indeed the pictures been phony, he would have by now sued ZBS.

He hasn’t and he can’t, because the pictures are genuine.

Now, the irritating thing is: in all probability, during the Cabinet Meeting where something about maize and the green papers which are converted into smaller denominations and coins, and then used to buy maize was discussed; the minister was “listening as attentively” as you and I saw him “listening” to President Peter Mutharika delivering the State of the Nation Address (SONA).

And being so “excited” with the discussion of the near probability of 8.5 million of us starving to death, he went into dream land. Who can fault him?

It’s not as if the starvation threatens him, no. It is menacing ordinary people like you and me, hence he finds such talk as boring as watching paint dry, and opts for a paid siesta when anyone bothers him with such dreary stuff.

He must have slumbered through the Cab inet deliberations which, with respect to resolving the prevailing and future hunger situation, miserably failed.

And just how could the Cabinet solve the riddle when the minister in charge was happily snoozing in dream land, where all was well with our Food Security?

What’s more, in his faraway state he seems to have strayed to Brazil, Mexico and God-knows-where.

Had the good minister been half awake at the Cabinet Indaba where he fantasised that maize scarcity had been resolved, he would have been the first to question Admarc on the explanation given to The Daily Times’ crew by Agness Ndovi, Admarc Public Relations Manager, that:

“Most of our selling points are closed this is because we are trying to buy maize from farmers through the mobile markets. However, we appreciate information pertaining to the areas that people are claiming that Admarc is nowhere to be seen.”

In other words, Admarc buyers, if at all they exist and are really buying maize – if we are to believe Mrs Agness Ndovi – are defying vision. They cannot be seen by villagers with the naked eye.

But as far as Admarc is concerned, they are out there, buying maize.

Let me hazard a guess: is it too farfetched to surmise that Admarc buyers, taking advantage of the sleeping minister and this equally sluggish government, are using vendors to buy maize from hapless farmers using sexed-up scales, for resale at proper Admarc markets at a profit?

Is this too implausible?

According to The Daily Times’ sources vendors are buying maize from the farmers at K130 per kg while Admarc is purchasing the maize in some areas at K170 per kg.

Meaning that: the “vendors”, who could very well be Admarc staffers, are buying and reselling the maize at a decent profit of K40 per kg, thanks to Admarc and the sleep-dozer!

You see, the minister says the government has fixed everything, the Admarc spokesperson says buyers are out there, but villagers are only seeing and trading with “vendors”.

Where are the buyers Admarc says ‘it has deployed’?

What I do not want to hear when our people are starving again and you and I are pointing fingers at the government for creating hunger; are irresponsible and childish defences that ‘the hunger was sent by God’.

As for the CSOs, the Clergy and other people of goodwill, it is wiser to patch the roof before the hole gets bigger.

And therefore, it is high time we shouted loud enough to wake every sleeping minister up so that they can get to work.

“There are people in the world so hungry,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” No-one can explain hunger any better.

It goes without saying that fighting hunger, even when it’s not threatening us personally, is the least we should do.

The same applies to demanding better governance. Never ever be fooled, peace is not only the absence of war.

If anything, when I look around at children going without quality education, mothers starved of health facilities, Albinos deprived of the right to life, and workers denied decent and timely wages; I do not see peace, no matter that the slogan of those governing says.

It is with this in mind that I want to advise Members of Parliament that the public watches and listens to deliberations every day. And while you deliberate, remember one thing; we, your employers need action and not just talk.

Anyone who dozes or peddles the baloney that “everything is alright”, will need our votes again in 2019, and we will have the last laugh. According to former parliamentarian Joseph Tembo, life after parliament is pretty rough.

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