Nelly Bassily | May 5, 2008
Less than three years ago, hungry Malawians would stand in line for days to receive food rations. The country’s maize harvest was very poor and millions of people could not feed themselves.
But last year, Malawi enjoyed a bumper harvest, with a surplus of one million tons of maize. Now its government has taken action to ensure that hunger will not return. President Bingu wa Mutharika recently announced a ban on the export of maize and maize products.
The ban follows a report by the National Food Reserve Agency that the country’s maize stocks were dwindling. There is no mechanism to regulate the amount of food exported from Malawi. Prior to the ban, traders made profits selling Malawian maize to neighbouring countries with higher food prices. There was also a fear that dishonest traders were hoarding maize stocks in other countries to create an artificial shortage in Malawi.
Malawi last banned maize exports in 2005. Since 2006, Malawi has subsidized fertilizer and seed prices. Approximately two million small-scale farmers receive vouchers allowing them to purchase fertilizer at about one-third of the market cost. The subsidy program, along with good rains, has allowed farmers to produce surplus harvests for the past two years.
Last year, there was a national surplus despite flooding in many regions President wa Mutharika says he wants to ensure there is enough food to support Malawian farmers affected by flooding before exporting any more maize.
The only country that will receive Malawian maize is Zimbabwe. Malawi agreed to export 400,000 tons – about 13 per cent of the last maize harvest – to Zimbabwe.