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World Food Programme fears for Malawi

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SOSTEN GWENGWE

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) says it is concerned about soaring food prices that are pushing the poor to the brink of hunger in the country.

WFP spokesperson Tomson Phiri expressed the fears at a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.

Phiri said, with nearly 400,000 Malawians already food insecure due to floods and droughts and the impact of the Covid pandemic, the country’s challenges are further being exacerbated by the effects of the Russia- Ukraine war.

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“Fifty percent of the Malawian population is already living in poverty, on less than $2 a day, prior to these price hikes. The disruption of global key cereals supplies after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 is pushing up fuel, fertiliser and food prices globally, hitting hard the most vulnerable populations.

“The price of bread has increased by 50 percent in the last three months. Interviews with bakery owners reveal that the retail price of a 50 kilogramme (kg) bag of wheat flour has risen by 42 percent since the onset of the Ukraine crisis,” he said.

Phiri said WFP was partnering the Malawi Government to address the problem, citing the provision of emergency food assistance and cash-based transfers, nutritional support, supply chain, logistics and resilience-building initiatives as some of the mechanisms put in place to alleviate suffering.

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The development comes at a time the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning is yet to release its Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) report, which spells out the government’s food situation and the number of people in need of food aid.

As the four-month Tropical Cyclone Ana response plan was winding up end May, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) indicated that the plan had received just 48 percent of the required resources.

Dodma said the project, which was being implemented in clusters, received a total of K34.8 billion out of K72 billion the project requires, leaving a K37.7 billion funding gap.

However, the agriculture cluster, whose requirements were pegged at K1.7 billion, was funded in full and got extra resources totaling K3.1 billion from the Contingency Emergency Response Component under the Agricultural Commercialisation Project.

Dodma spokesperson Chipiliro Khamula said the money in the cluster would be used for procuring farm inputs, which will be distributed to farmers whose crops were destroyed by tropical storms Gombe and Ana so that they can replant during the winter season.

“This programme is starting even without waiting for Mvac report so that, one way, we cushion those who are vulnerable. When the Mvac report is out and shows the number of people in need of food aid, we will then start giving the relief items in the lean period response programme,” he said.

Wednesday, The Daily Times published a story in which it indicated that, while the country faces looming hunger, Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) had gone into a contract with a Zimbabwean company called Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe to supply maize to the tune of $22 million.

According to the contract, which was signed by Admarc Board Chairperson Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi and national chairperson for Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe Tafadzwa Musarara on May 20 2022, 100,000 metric tonnes (mt) of maize are expected to be delivered by July 31 2023.

The contract stipulates that the Zimbabwean company would collect 33,000mt of maize every month.

“This contract shall be terminated at the expiry of its duration subject to any agreement for removal or, earlier, by either party giving the other seven days written notice of intention to terminate,” the contract reads.

However, the deal was suspended when it was discovered that the board flouted contract procedures.

Chairperson for the Agriculture Committee of Parliament Sameer Suleman and suspended Admarc Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rhino Chiphiko confirmed the development.

Among the allegations was that the board chairperson was not supposed to sign the deal on behalf of Admarc, as the contract was supposed to be signed by an official from management.

Asked to comment on the matter of Admarc, Dzonzi said he was surprised by accusations that he decided to sell the maize without consulting management, saying Chiphiko participated in the signing of the contract.

“The CEO was there when the board chairmen of GMAZ and Admarc signed the contract. We want all our maize to be sold for us to service the loans [we have], pay salaries and create space for new maize,” Dzonzi said.

However, Suleman said the maize sale deal was irregular as procurement processes were not followed.

“That is why I am asking the President [Lazarus Chakwera] to intervene in Admarc issues,” he said.

Speaking at the press conference which President Lazarus Chakwera organised Tuesday evening, Finance Minister Sosten Gwengwe said they had a meeting on the issue on Monday, with another meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

He said the newly appointed Secretary to the President and Cabinet (SPC) Colleen Zimba, who has replaced Zanga-Zanga Chikhosi, would, probably, make the Admarc issues one of her priorities.

He further indicated that the decision to sell 100,000mt to Zambabwe had been suspended as the government was reviewing some issues, including food security prospects.

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