MAIZE PRICES: A MIXED BAG
By Godfrey Maotcha
Davison Dalikeni of Mbalame Village, Traditional Authority Malili in Lilongwe district has been a farmer since 1996. He mainly grows maize and groundnuts for commercial purposes although part of the harvest is left for consumption.
A primary school dropout, Dalikeni has managed to educate his sisters and built a house all courtesy of maize farming.
But 2017 he says, was one of the worst years in his farming history in that he was not able to meet all expenses for the next growing season, because there was no business. He is barely surviving and the future looks bleak.
Dalikeni sold his maize at a give away price since that’s what vendors could offer. Villagers of Traditional Authority Malili especially at Mbalame Village have no Admarc depot nearby. Thus, they rely on vendors who provide a ready markert for their produce.
“I have kept enough maize for food. But food alone without money is nothing. I can’t buy clothes and other household necessities. Worse still, I have not managed to buy enough bags of fertilizers for the next growing season,” he says.
Malawi bounced back from a period of hunger scourge during the 2015/16 growing season to witness a bumper harvest of over 3 million metric tonnes of maize in the 2016/17 growing season. This resulted in the staple food going at as low as K50 per kilogramme.
Government issued an export ban on maize which worsened matters as the prices of the commodity dropped hitting hard commercial farmers. But it was lifted later in the year after most farmers had already sold their produce at a pittance.
But Village Headman Mbalame sees an opportunity in the misfortunes of commercial farmers. He says poor people in his village smiled all the way with the low maize prices “because with little money, they could find maize to feed their housesholds.”
He adds that “the maize ban was well timed and necessary because if government had not tightened security on our borders and let the maize out, we could have witnessed what we experienced in 2002. You might recall there was hunger after we had sold almost all of our national harvest.”
According to him hunger may loom again in 2018 since most commercial farmers didn’t realise much from their produce.
Both the Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) and the Civil Society Network on Agriculture (Cisanet) while commending government for lifting the maize ban, said it will only benefit vendors and intermediaries since farmers had sold their produce.