Malawians Worry About Expected Food Shortage

BLANTYRE— A final agricultural production estimate survey in Malawi forecasts many people will face acute food shortages this year due to low yields of the country's main staple, maize (corn), largely because of recent flooding. Private traders are holding maize in anticipation of selling it at higher prices during the hunger crisis. But the government has asked Malawians not to panic.

Malawi’s Agriculture Minister, Allan Chiyembekeza, presented the report’s findings in the capital, Lilongwe.

“The result has shown that maize production has decreased. From 3,978,123 metric tons that we realized in 2013-2014 agriculture season, to 2,898,123 metric tons in the current agriculture season, creating a national food deficit of 27.7 percent," said Chiyembekeza.

The new government statistics say more than 200,000 Malawians are expected to face an acute food situation.

Another report, released at this year's Southern African Development Community summit in Botswana, put the number of Malawians at risk of hunger at over one million.

Private traders have now started holding their maize stocks in anticipation of selling at higher prices during the peak of the hunger crisis.

Fletcher Ligoya is a maize trader in Chirimba Township in Blantyre.

“We can say maize is scarce," he said, adding that they have the maize but are holding it because of the hunger threats. They want to sell it later.

Malita Musa, a single mother of Chilomoni Township, told VOA she has started keeping maize husks, readying for the impending shortage.

“In past we used to sell the maize husks to the millers right at the maize mill, who were reselling them as animal feeds," she said. "But now they are taking it home to keep because it will help them have food during the hunger situation."

Annie Chilanga operates a restaurant at the Blantyre Flea Market which largely sells Nsima, a thick starchy porridge made from maize flour.

She says the maize shortage will have a negative impact on her business.

The Reverend Felix Maulana is chairperson for the National Food Reserve Agency. He told the privately owned Capital Radio last week the government is importing maize.

“We are procuring maize now. About 50,000 metric tons are solely for relief. But even after relief, we have 35,000 metric tons ready for anything," said Maulana.

He also said the national grain marketer, the Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation, is also importing 30,000 metric tons from Zambia.

But Rafik Hajat of the think tank Institute for Policy Interaction told VOA that past experience shows that maize imports are not necessarily a means of averting a hunger situation.

“We had a drought situation here in [the] 1999-2000 season. About 42,000 people died not [because] there was no maize but because the price of maize was inflated by over 100 percent and they could not afford the maize," said Hajat.

Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Felix Jumbe, told VOA the government should have first bought and depleted the maize stocks from local traders, who are holding the maize, before it started importing. Doing so, he said, would have helped prevent the impending price increases of maize.