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Govt is exaggerating the hunger situation in the country, Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources

The Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources says government is exaggerating the hunger situation in the country.

The committee says government is ignoring the fact that Malawi has enough maize stock to last through to the next harvest period.

This comes on the back of the seeming confusion on the exact situation in Malawi especially in terms of whether the country has enough maize stocks.

President Joyce Banda has been sounding the alarm about the hunger situation at her rallies claiming that the previous administration did not say the truth about it.

But what has not been said with a unified voice is whether the country has enough maize or not.

However, chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, David Luka, said yesterday there is actually no hunger in the country as the government has been putting it.

Instead, what Malawi is lacking are resources to ferry themaize from where it is located to where it is needed.

“I am not an expert but surely this cannot be described as hunger. We need funds to do the logistics in maize distribution. We are not in a position to import maize. I don’t think this situation can be called hunger,” he said.

Luka, a Mulanje Bale parliamentarian, said the picture that the government is painting to the outside world is somehow exaggerated.

“We are giving a very unfortunate picture as if there is gloom and doom out there. We need to tell the outside world what is actually on the ground,” he said.

But the government has stuck to its guns on the matter, saying its description of the situation is not even political.

Government spokesperson Moses Kunkuyu said it is unfortunate that someone would “declare that everyone has enough food in this country”.

“But it is okay if his constituency has enough maize and that people there will not require handouts,” he said.

He said the government’s declaration on hunger is based on the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee report released in February this year which said at least 1.6 million people would be food insecure.

The figure has risen to more than 2 million in recent reports. Kunkuyu said Luka’s remarks risked bringing back the situation of the past where the actual condition on the ground was being misrepresented.

“We need to be helped and we have to say the truth in order to be assisted,” said Kunkuyu.

Press Secretary to the president Steve Nhlane also described Luka’s comment as unfair. But he indicated Malawi has the maize.

“The issue is not that there is not enough maize in the country. The issue is that there are food insecure households which do not also have money to buy maize,” he said. Minister of Agriculture Peter Mwanza also said last week that

Malawi does have maize but it needs resources to transport it to where it is needed.

The National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) has been tightlipped to disclose how much Malawi has in the reserves. ‘Shortage artificial’ The Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) also agreed with Luka and Mwanza that the country has the maize.

National Coordinator for Civil Society Agriculture Network(Cisanet), Tamani Nkhono-Mvula, who sits in the Strawtegic Grain Reserve Committee that regulates the release of maize from the silos, said to the best of his knowledge there is some stocks in the reserves.

“We have not been given any report by NFRA that the silos are empty but it will be a bit tricky for me to say whether what we have in the silos will take us through or not,” he said.

He said it is not only the grain reserves that keep maize as traders keep large stocks from which the government can buy.

“I still believe the food shortage is somehow artificial. The maize is still available though it is not accessible by the majority of the poor people. It may be due to cost or it is just being held up by the traders,” he said. Access to reserves Nkhono-Mvula explained that the NFRA uses Admarc to purchase maize from the farmers on its behalf as the agency does not have the capacity to do nationwide purchase.

As a limited company, he said, Admarc is not entitled to get money from government; however, NFRA as a public trust gets the money which is then given to Admarc for the purchase.

“The other way,” he said “is where the NFRA may have contract with estate owners to grow maize for grain reserves.”

To get the maize out of the reserves, the procedure starts with an Mvac report that gives the level of vulnerability and also proves that there is indeed a crisis that necessitates release of maize from the silos.

Then, whosoever wants to get the maize out of the silos, be it World Food Programme or Department of Disaster Management Affairs, makes a formal request to the Ministry of Agriculture which then sends the request to the Strategic Grain Reserves Committee for approval.

“Once the committee approves that there is indeed a need and also that whosoever is getting the maize out provides ways on how the maize will be replenished whether through cash or otherwise, the petitioner signs documentation which is an binding agreement that they will replenish the maize. This is to prevent the reserves from getting to zero,” explained Nkhono-Mvula.

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