Police in Lilongwe have arrested at least 24 illegal farm produce traders as the government tightens grip on the buying and selling of maize, the country’s staple food and marker of food inflation.
Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Irrigation spokesperson Osborn Tsoka confirmed the crack-down on illegal buyers and sellers of farm produce, saying they have started trading in maize and other produce this season with licence from the ministry.
“They have started trading in farm produce without licence. They were supposed to wait until we gave them the trading licence. They have also started trading without waiting for the government to put minimum prices for the produce,” said Tsoka.
He said the ministry will soon issue minimum prices for maize and other produce as well as start issuing the produce licences.
One the traders who was picked at Lilongwe market, Mark Banda said he was surprising when the police just came to the market and ordered all the produce traders to follow them to Lilongwe Police Station.
“We were 12 or so and they arrested all of us. The problem is not us, the problem is the government because it has delayed in issuing us with the licence, the government has delayed in fixing the minimum the prices. The ministry fixes the prices and gives us the licences in March but this is April,” said Banda.
However, Tsoka said the minimum price lists would be released this month as well as the issuance of the produce trading licences.
Spokesperson for the police in the centre Noriah Chihana confirmed the arrest of the produce traders but could not say how many were arrested.
Reports say as many as 24 were picked but others have so been released on police bail.
The government wants to control the movement of maize due to fears of acute food shortage this year.