The announcement by Government prohibiting the export of maize to neighboring countries may have come a little late. Farmers in Eastern Province have reportedly flooded Malawi with maize.
As expected, our farmers are now caught up between a rock and a hard place. They must make a decision between two difficult and unpleasant choices.
They must either sell their maize to the Food Reserve Agency at K65 per 50Kg bag or indeed export it legally or otherwise and fetch K75 for the same bag.
Selling to the FRA will be a contribution towards national food security but selling the same bag in Malawi at K75 will contribute towards enhancing family food and financial security.
What is a farmer to do?
Was this dilemma really necessary? We don’t think so. Farmers deserve to be paid the rightful amount for the exertion applied in producing maize. The floor price, established by the mandarins in Government does not fully reflect the amount of work that farmers put into production. If anything the floor price is a political statement intended to serve the competing interest of the farmer and of the politically active consumer who will protest any mealie meal price escalation.
The immediate temptation is to recommend a wholesale market led determination of prices, but this will be counter intuitive given the intricacy of the matter, hence our appeal to the Government to give the matter due consideration to establish a dynamic marketing system that will meet the various variables at play.
Firstly there is a shortfall of maize in the country due to incremental weather, army worm infestation and poor input supply. This means that Government, through the FRA, must purchase as much as possible for national food security while stocks lasts or face the daunting task of importation when the reserve runs out.
And herein lies the problem: any import will be at a higher price than the K65 being offered to the farmer. This is an acknowledgment that our farmers are underpaid.
In essence therefore the reality is that we cannot have our cake and eat it. We cannot pay our farmers a pittance and expect them to feed their children on the rhetoric of national interest which will neither pay school fee nor buy uniforms for their children.
Maize is a political crop, just as mealie meal is a political landmine, but this should not be cause for inertia to act on a critical matter that border on national and family food security. The Government must grasp the nettle or face calamity.
Statements banning exports without putting in place incentives will not work. Show the farmers the color of the money and they will bring the stocks.