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LILONGWE, 26 July (IRIN) - President Bingu wa Mutharika has banned maize and fertiliser exports in a response to a growing food crisis that the UN estimates is threatening a third of Malawians.
"Maize exports out of Malawi to anywhere are forbidden. We cannot export maize when our people are starving here," Mutharika said on Monday.
An informal cross-border trade in maize flourishes within the region, but much of it - transported by bicycle - is imported into Malawi from neighbouring Tanzania and Zambia.
Mutharika's ban on exports after a fourth successive year of poor rains has been welcomed by local NGOs; but they called for the strict implementation of the order.
"This is a good development, and it is something we have been waiting to hear from government," said Consumer Association of Malawi (CAM) executive director, John Kapito. "If this is properly enforced, then what it means is that prices of both maize and fertiliser will be reduced for the rural poor."
The CAM, which had been critical of the authorities' handling of the food crisis, added: "The duty of policing should not be left to the government machinery alone, but the local communities should be able to know who is moving maize out and report them to police for action."
Kapito also called for the securing of depots run by the Agricultural Development and Marketing Cooporation (ADMARC), the main national supplier of subsidised maize and fertiliser.
The export ban comes barely a week after Mutharika launched a 'Feed the Nation Fund', calling on Malawians to contribute at least 10 percent of their earnings to the initiative.
Mutharika has, however, refused calls from opposition parties to launch an international appeal to donors.
"By declaring the country in a state of hunger, it means we are telling the donors that we have failed to manage the situation, and we are asking them to sort out this problem for us. Let us do something, as Malawians, and then we can ask the donors after we have done something," he said.
Civil society groups applauded the creation of the fund, but warned that it needed to be managed transparently.
Collins Magalasi, National Coordinator of the Malawi Economic Justice Network, a poverty monitoring NGO, noted: "Let us hope the money government will raise will indeed benefit those who have no food ... The problem with politicians is that they promise but never deliver."
Malawi's maize harvest is the lowest since 1994, with production at just 37 percent of national consumption needs. According to a vulnerability assessment earlier this year, if inflation remains constant an estimated 4.2 million people will be food insecure; a worst-case scenario raises the total to 4.6 million in a population of 11 million.
The government has introduced a universal fertiliser subsidy to try and boost agricultural production.
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