Zimbabwe plans major maize imports to avert hunger, as Malawi shrugs off floods, dry spell to project strong growth

Both governments under pressure to balance budgets and plug gaping holes as nature weighs in.

The bulk of Zimbabwe’s annual maize crop has been written off due to poor rains. (Photo/AFP)

ZIMBAWE will import 700,000 tonnes of maize to avert hunger after annual crop yields shrunk by nearly half due to poor rains, even as Malawi put on a brave face to project strong growth despite being hit by hit by both devastating floods and dry spells.

“The final crop assessment report shows that the country’s maize production went down by 49%, hence the need to import more grain,” Zimbabwe’s national television said quoting Agriculture Minister Joseph Made.

The minister said the bulk of the corn crop was written off after an erratic rain season.

It was not immediately clear where the corn will be imported from but Zimbabwe has in the past bought grain in neighbouring Zambia and South Africa.

But it is expected to add pressure on the cash-strapped government that is already struggling to pay public service workers salaries.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) says Zimbabwe needs around 1.8 million tonnes of corn to feed its people annually.

“The unfavourable rains in Zimbabwe, particularly impacting the low-producing regions in the south resulted in a write-off of nearly 300,000 tonnes,” the FAO said in its latest report.

For years the country has suffered a food deficit which President Robert Mugabe blames on low rainfall caused by climate change.

But his critics say the low yields are a result of controversial land reforms which saw the seizure of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to landless blacks, most of whom lacked the means and skills to farm.

Mugabe earlier this year admitted that he blundered by giving ill-equipped black farmers vast tracts of farmland seized from whites under his controversial land reforms.

Balancing act
In Malawi, president Peter Mutharika said he expects the economy to grow by 5.4% this year. Growth would rebound in 2016, reaching 6.5% Mutharika said Tuesday during a state of the nation address to lawmakers in the capital, Lilongwe.

Floods in January displaced more than 200,000 Malawians and killed at least 176. They also damaged corn crops and tobacco, the country’s largest export earner.

Malawi’s government would pursue policies that seek to curb inflation and reduce the balance of payment deficit, Mutharika said. Annual average inflation is expected to drop to 16.4% in 2015 from 23.8% last year, helped by a more stable exchange rate and lower oil prices, he said.

Malawi’s traditional donors, who have in recent years provided up to 40% of the country’s budget  have withheld as much as $150 million in aid because of a government corruption scandal referred to by local media as “cashgate.”

“Following the cashgate scandal, the contribution of donor support to the budget substantially declined from about 30% of the total resource envelope to less than 20% in the 2014/2015 fiscal year,” Mutharika said.

“As a result, the 2014/2015 budget has been largely financed by domestic resources.”

To fill the revenue gap caused by reduced donations, the government intensified tax reforms.