Malawi hunger becomes increasingly common, maize exports banned

Malawi has suspended maize exports to build national reserves in the face of a looming shortage, marking a surprise twist for a country that has served as Africa’s model for attaining food security.

The move taken by the country’s ministry in charge of Commerce and Industry nullifies all export licences that allowed grain traders to ship maize out of the country, locking out one of Kenya’s source markets for cereals.

“Malawi Revenue Authority and all licence holders are requested to take heed of the suspension order,” reads the press release.

In the 2010/11 season, Malawi announced a bumper harvest of 3.2 million tonnes of maize against a national consumption of 2.4 million tonnes. This surplus came handy for South Sudan, Kenya and Zimbabwe, helping to plug a drought–induced shortage that persisted during most of 2011.

Maize shortage looms as Malawi halts exports to boost grain reserves

Lately, however, Malawi estimates that 10 of its 28 districts are at risk of maize shortage between last month and February.
In Kenya, where recent short season harvests can barely last up to the next long rains crop expected in August, the news comes as a setback to private millers who have been pushing for the renewal of duty free import window that expired on New Year’s eve.

Malawi, Zambia and South Africa are the important source of white maize that Kenya imports each year to manufacture flour and animal feed.

“Extending duty free facility will pile pressure on local farmers to release the recent harvests that they are currently hoarding in the hope of pushing up market prices,” says Diamond Lalji, the Cereals Millers Association chairman.

Failure by farmers to release their November/December harvests have recently forced the National Cereals and Produce Board to raise its producer price to Sh3,000 per bag in what World Bank describes as among the highest in the world.

This gesture has, however, failed to soften farmers’ stand with just a few trickling back to the NCPB depots since it made the offer in late October.

The hoarding has denied the consumer the benefit of low market prices that normally prevails at harvest time as flour prices remain at high between Sh108 and Sh112.

Being Comesa countries, maize from Malawi and Zambia attracted just 25 per cent duty compared to South Africa’s which is subject to EAC’s common external tariff of 50 per cent.

This means that with the lapse of duty free incentive, local importers would easily turn to Malawi or Zambia to boost national stock.

Seen as a model African state where state subsidy programme has helped farmers to increase acreage under maize through improved access to modern inputs, research and technology, the looming shortage is likely to send the region’s policy makers back to the drawing board.

Recently, Malawi’s secretary in the Department of Relief and Disaster Preparedness Jeffrey Kanyinji announced that the country has put aside 4,000 tonnes that are expected to be distributed to about 200,000 Malawians that are, at the moment, affected by food shortage in the southern part of Malawi.

A government corporation that controls the sale of maize in Malawi, Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation, announced the increase of maize prices by 50 per cent from $12 (Sh1,040) to $18 (Sh1,530) for a 50-kilogramme bag. This would be equivalent to Sh2,754 a 90-kilogramme bag in Kenya.

Malawi’s Agriculture deputy minister Kingsley Namakhwa said the review would save farmers from exploitation of parallel market trader

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