June 24, 2024

Malawi bans maize imports from Kenya, Tanzania over disease

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Malawi, which is already suffering from food shortages, banned the import of unmilled maize from Kenya and Tanzania this week over concerns that the spread of maize lethal necrosis disease could wipe out the staple food.

However, the Ministry of Agriculture announced the ban in a statement that said the disease has no treatment and can cause up to 100 percent yield loss. The statement said maize can be imported only after it is milled, either as flour or grit. Henry Kamkwamba, an agriculture expert with the International Food Policy Research Institute, told VOA that if the disease were introduced into the country, it would be difficult to contain.

He used the banana bunchy top virus as an example of the potential danger.

“Think of how we lost all of our traditional bananas in the past, and now Malawi is a net importer of bananas… due to our lax policies in terms of imports,” he said.

Kamkwamba predicted that the ban would help Malawi prevent the disease from spreading. Kenya and Tanzania have long been primary sources of maize for Malawi during periods of food shortage. Malawi is facing shortages largely because Cyclone Freddy destroyed thousands of hectares of maize last March.

However, Grace Mijiga Mhango, the president of the Grain Traders Association of Malawi, said that while she understands the severity of the impact of the maize disease, banning imports at a time of need would likely result in higher costs.

In conclusion, the World Food Program (WFP) in Malawi and the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee estimate that 4.4 million people—around a quarter of the population—would face food shortages until March 2024.

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