Malawi food imports on the rise

The MVAC, a joint committee comprising government, civil society and donors have revealed in a September 2006 report that some farmers have already sold their maize while some parts of the country experienced poor harvests, resulting in the informal importation of the crop.

MVAC reveals that households in Malawi have bought from Mozambique, with which it shares the longest border, 38,036 metric tones of dry maize between April and July, another 10,392 metric tones in August, with insignificant inflows from Tanzania and Zambia.

Malawi also imported 49 tones of rice from Mozambique and 2, 799 tonnes of beans.

The MVAC report discloses that the winter season provided farmers some access to food at the critical period when the majority of households have run out of food.

The report explains that most of the crop planted early has now matured and farmers have started harvesting it and selling it as green maize, with the resultant income being used to buy dry maize for future consumption.

“You cannot guarantee that the money realised from the sale of green maize will be used to purchase dry maize, which is milled into flour. There are so many problems in a lot of households these days, including issues dealing in HIV and AIDS,” says Evance Harawa, a senior economist in Lilongwe. “It is in very few cases that farmers wait for their maize crop to dry and then harvest it.”

The MVAC report says that although the problems were localized, they were severe in some parts like eastern Kasungu district where some households harvested nothing.

Reports from the area indicate that subsistent and peasant farmers have been trekking to urban centers to sell their animals such as goats, chickens and cattle at very low prices in order to obtain cash to buy food.

“There is need to therefore to move with speed in planning and implementing interventions for those identified as being affected,” says Sam Chimwaza, FEWS NET/Malawi country representative.

“The livelihoods of the people in this area are highly dependent on agriculture and the crop failure experienced has severely affected their ability to fend for themselves as most of them will spend a disproportionate amount of their time looking for food rather than working on their farms,” adds Chimwaza, whose organization is supported by USAID to report on the Malawi Food Security situation on monthly basis.

In spite of the current national food surplus, some of the reasons for the continued imports of various food stuffs include market accessibility, convenience and relative prices.

The latest report released by the Informal Cross Border Food Trade Monitoring system says that for Mozambican farmers living along the border with Malawi, markets in Malawi are much closer than those in southern Mozambique, or specifically, Maputo.

The farmers in those areas also depend on Malawi for the purchase of manufactured commodities such as salt, soap and bicycles.

They use the income from the sales of their produce to buy these items. In addition, prices in border areas of Malawi are even lower than some on markets in the interior of Mozambique, the report further discloses.

“It’s good for the people to have a choice. They should be going for the lowest prices and that is good for our people,” said Austin Mtukula, MP for Ntcheu Bwanje, which is along the border with Mozambique. “There is a lot of informal trade between us and the traders from that country. For as long as it is legal, that is okay with me.”

And while the Malawi government is selling maize through its grain marketing board, Admarc, at USD 0.18 per kilogram (MK25.00), it sells at USD 0.14 (K16.00) at most border areas, resulting in people ignoring the government selling points.

The majority of the local markets registered an increase in maize prices this month. These increases could, especially in areas that experienced food production problems, have negative effects on poor households’ food security.

Malawi produced 2.6 million metric tones of maize against an expected consumption of 2.2 million.

The Muloza (Malawi) and Milanje (Mozambique) border posts remains the most significant in maize trade, with the grain coming from the latter accounting for 53 per cent of the overall trade reported in August.

Another major border point is at Kalanje (again between Mozambique and Malawi), which accounts for 12 per cent of the trade.

Meanwhile, according to the Regional Trade Intelligence Network (RATIN) reports, Tanzania has announced an export ban on food crops, including maize, effective August this year.

The Tanzanian authorities say they have taken this measure as a strategic precaution against an impending period of food supply shortages, and also because of the poor harvests in some parts of the country.

Due to the surplus production this year, Zambia has lifted its export ban. However, it is only the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) that has permission to export up to 10,000 metric tones.

The Tanzanian ban is not expected to have any significant impact on Malawi as it registered a production surplus.

November 2006
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