Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) is sailing through troubled waters. That has been the case for several years now.
A once-vibrant State grain trader that used to meet smallholder farmers’ needs in their own locations now has its structures in rural areas lying in ruins.
Admarc is saddled with debts it is failing to settle. Its maize is in the hands of banks as it was used as collateral for loans the parastatal obtained from the lenders.
For years, the grain trader has been asking Treasury to bail it out after failing to manage its affairs with what got into its coffers.
There is a lot of chaos at the institution.
Somehow, there seems to be politics at play. Admarc management and the board have been at loggerheads for months now and the spat has even been pronounced in public discourses.
No institution thrives in a climate where its management and overseers are working in antagonism.
Just recently, news came out that Admarc had entered into a contract with a businessperson to whom the parastatal had reportedly committed to sell maize.
There is so much controversy in the deal itself, if the information that we have got is anything to go by.
The businessperson has obtained a court order that stops Admarc from implementing its decision to suspend the sale of maize and continue selling him the staple grain within the context of the agreement.
Without delving deeper into the deal itself, it is strange that the matter was allegedly never brought to the attention of the board until last Monday.
What we knew regarding contracts the institution had was the two which were cancelled after the Agriculture Committee of Parliament had intervened.
Unless the grain trader’s board chairperson Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi is lying, something is terribly wrong at the institution in terms of the two sides communicating and being accountable to Malawians.
It is difficult to believe that Admarc management kept the contract with the businessperson under wraps. More so when there is a court order reportedly issued last month.
All this speaks volumes about how terrible operations at the institution are. It is unclear whether management and the board do sit together in a very inviting atmosphere where they do discuss critical issues in managing the parastatal without attempting to upset each other.
There appears to be some infighting that is contributing to the chaos in managing Admarc that we are publicly seeing.
But how long should this persist at an institution that was once very strategic in developing agriculture in the country?
Should Malawians continue being short-changed by Admarc’s failure to drastically reform its operations and retain its lost grandeur?
Where is that Admarc that used to be everywhere in the country buying and selling grains throughout the year? Doesn’t that kind of Admarc ring a bell in authorities so that they can bring it back?
Are authorities happy with the current status of the institution? Or have they given up that it will ever reform? Should that be the case, then, perhaps, now is the time to disband it and put in place a replacer that will truly be operating in the best interest of Malawians.
Of course, without addressing the causes of the present status of Admarc, we will be moving in circles even when we come up with another entity to carry out similar functions.
Currently, the State grain trader is rationing the sale of maize apparently because government wants to ward off vendors who often rush to purchase the staple grain in large quantities and empty the depots before taking the same maize to sell to poor households.
There is also another theory to the effect that there isn’t enough maize in the country, after all.
Apparently, the maize that Admarc has cannot be taken to the market because it was used as collateral for the loans the grain trader obtained from commercial banks.
Something really needs to be done on this institution.
Authorities must use the chaos that has been there for years now to learn important lessons regarding how a parastatal of this nature should not be managed.
Some of the food security challenges we are facing are emanating from the messy management of Admarc which never buys maize in time before vendors invade rural areas for the commodity.
In fact, even after the parastatal manages to get hold of some maize, it often sells it to big traders instead of smallholder farmers who produced the grain.
All these need to be looked into if the institution is to be drastically reformed. It has to be an Admarc of the people—a grain trader that resists every temptation to be at the mercy of politicians and big traders.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. Follow him on Twitter @aponje