Blantyre, Malawi — Despite ongoing food shortages, the government of Malawi last month banned the import of unmilled maize from Kenya and Tanzania, citing concerns about the spread of maize lethal necrosis disease, or MLN. To help keep Malawians fed, the World Food Program has started milling 30,000 metric tons of relief maize. Authorities say the first consignment of the milled grain is expected next week.
Ironically, the maize the WFP purchased for milling is from Tanzania. The grain was held up last week, awaiting the arrival of experts to test it for MLN.
However, the WFP country director in Malawi, Paul Turnbul, told local media that in the interests of time, it was agreed that no tests would be done and instead, the WFP would just mill the maize and import flour to Malawi
Charles Kalemba, the commissioner for Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs, told the state broadcaster Tuesday importing flour is safe.
“We are getting maize flour from Tanzania because the agriculture ministry did not say we cannot get maize, but what we call full grain maize, which can be planted, [that’s] where the problem is,” he said. “But getting food in the form of maize flour, that’s okay.”
In December, Malawi’s government banned the import of unmilled maize grain from Kenya and Tanzania because of concerns that the spread of MLN could wipe out the country’s staple crop.
The ministry of agriculture said the disease has no treatment and can cause up to 100% yield loss.
Ronald Chilumpha, an expert in crop protection in Malawi, told VOA he did not expect Malawi to ban maize grain from Tanzania.
“Maize necrosis has been there in East Africa since 2012,” he said. “Malawi has been on alert for potential presence of the disease in the country. I do believe that these are scientific issues that can be discussed from a scientific point of view and come to a consensus.”
Authorities in Malawi estimated that 4.4 million people, about a quarter of Malawi’s population, will face food shortages over the next three months.
The food shortages are largely because of the impact of Cyclone Freddy, which washed away thousands of hectares of crops nearly a year ago.
Government statistics show that maize stocks in the national strategic reserves have dropped to 68,000 metric tons, 100,000 less than required to adequately address hunger in the Southern African nation.
WFP Regional Director for Southern Africa Menghestab Haile met with Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera Tuesday. He told reporters that several other African countries are also facing a hunger situation.
“The problem of food insecurity is not only in Malawi,” he said. “The whole region is looking at a crisis; we don’t know what El Nino will do. So, what we as WFP do is supporting the government in every way possible to make sure that we have necessary resources mobilized and distribute to people who deserve those resources.”
In the meantime, Malawi’s government has announced that it will import unmilled maize grain from South Africa.