As the number of people projected to face hunger in the coming months increased to 1.6 million from 1.4 million, a monthly maize market report has also shown a sharp price increase in the staple food.

According to the report, in December 2021, maize retail prices averaged K152 per kg which was four percent higher than the previous month but 24 percent lower than the price in December 2020.

The report says while this was expected as the lean season is about to peak, the prices sharply increased from November 2021 than in December 2020.

“This is because maize stock gets depleted, putting pressure on prices to go up,” reads the report developed by researchers at International Food Policy Research Institute  (IFPRI) Malawi aimed at providing clear and accurate information on the variation of maize prices in selected markets in the country.

Additionally, the report says, acting on expectations following the lifting of a maize export ban, traders might have raised maize retail prices.

An Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report, under the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac), shows the number of people projected to face hunger between January and March increased by 200 000 which was the same for November to December.

The IPC report attributed the development to a rise in the number of food insecure people in Balaka, Lilongwe and Kasungu districts from a collective 180 749 during the last analysis in August to 337 630 in the latest analysis.

But the IFPRI Malawi monthly maize market report for December 2021 also shows maize retail prices varied widely from as low as K90 per kg, in some parts of Mzimba and Chitipa to as high as K230 per kg in some parts of Nsanje.

However, IFPRI monitored 14 out of 26 Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) markets across the country where there was a maximum price of equal to or greater than K200 per kg.

“However, Chiringa [Phalombe], Mbayani [Blantyre] and Mpondabwino [Zomba] registered marginal price decrease [one to five percent) since November 2021, but prices had increased within the month,” reads the report.

The report adds, however, that during the month, the retail prices remained highest in the Southern Region.

In addition to geographical price variations, the report says traders indicated that most of the maize sold in the South was being sourced from Central Region districts such as Dedza, Ntcheu, Lilongwe and Mchinji forcing traders in the South to add a transport markup to the prices.

In general, as at end December, prices in the South averaged K168 per kg (four percent higher than November).  In the Centre they averaged K146 per kg which was eight percent higher than November while in the Northern Region the prices averaged K123 per kg, 10 percent lower than November.

However, the report says Admarc was selling maize at K205 per kg which was 35 percent higher than the average retail price.

While the prices appeared to be on the higher side, the report says as of the end of December, retail prices of maize on Malawian markets were lower than in selected regional markets in Eastern Africa and “on SAFEX (the main grain futures market in South Africa).

Commenting on the issue, Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency executive director Willy Kambwandira said while there was some good news, there should be a cause for worry considering that government has lifted a ban on maize exportation.

“Obviously the development means that the demand for our maize will be high from the neighboring countries. So our worry is that this might create maize shortage in the country, and leave many Malawians vulnerable.

“Again, it is anticipated that many households will face hunger this year, the rains are erratic and AIP [Affordable Inputs Programme] is also a flop this year. It is important for government to restrict exportation of maize, and they should consider restoring the ban which was lifted,” he said.

On his part, Chawanangwa Hara, a small-scale farmer from Jenda in Mzimba said the price increase should be a worrying issue to Malawians considering that there are reports of 1.6 million Malawians likely to face food shortage.

He said: “This should be a wake-up call to government to put in place proper strategies to ensure people do not die because of hunger.”

IFPRI Malawi has been monitoring retail maize prices and Admarc activities in selected markets since December 2016.

Currently, IFPRI Malawi collects data from 26 markets across the country, with monitoring occurring six days a week, excluding Sundays.

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