Malawi bans maize import from Kenya, Tanzania over necrosis disease

Malawi bans maize import from Kenya, Tanzania over necrosis disease
A maize cob infected with Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease

Lilongwe, Malawi | By Michael Wandati | Malawi, currently grappling with food scarcity issues, recently implemented a ban on the importation of unmilled maize from Kenya and Tanzania. The decision stems from apprehensions about the potential threat of maize lethal necrosis disease, which could pose a significant risk to the country’s staple food supply.

The Ministry of Agriculture issued a statement declaring the ban, emphasizing the lack of treatment for the maize lethal necrosis disease, which can result in complete yield loss of up to 100 per cent.

According to the statement, the importation of maize is now permitted only in milled forms, such as flour or grit. Henry Kamkwamba, an agriculture expert from the International Food Policy Research Institute, warned that containing the disease, if introduced, would be challenging, citing the banana bunchy top virus as a precedent for potential dangers.

“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.

“There are these similar concerns with maize,” he said, with maize being the nation’s main food crop.

Kamkwamba anticipates that the ban will serve as a preventive measure against the spread of the disease. Kenya and Tanzania have traditionally been major maize sources for Malawi during food shortages, exacerbated by Cyclone Freddy’s destruction of numerous maize hectares last March. The World Food Program (WFP) and the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee estimate that 4.4 million people, approximately a quarter of the population, will experience food shortages until March 2024.

Grace Mijiga Mhango, President of the Grain Traders Association of Malawi, acknowledges the gravity of the maize disease impact but expresses concern that imposing import restrictions during times of need could lead to higher costs.

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“If we really don’t have enough food, then we are creating another unnecessary maize [price] increase,” she said.

The next alternative for maize imports is South Africa, she said.

“South Africa is quite a distance,” she said, “and they don’t have enough. … It will be expensive.”

Malawi’s government said the ban will be temporary as it explores other preventive measures to combat the spread of maize lethal necrosis disease.