Commercial mahangu crisis

31 May 2019 | Agriculture

Namibia has run out of mahangu for commercial milling purposes, but the country's borders have not been opened for imports, after being closed in January.

According to Pieter van Niekerk, commercial manager of Namib Mills, the Agro Marketing and Trade Agency (AMTA) confirmed to them that they had purchased the last locally available mahangu, about 70 tonnes.

The remainder of the mahangu, Van Niekerk said, was to be reserved for the food relief programme. He told Namibian Sun that to supply the current demand in the market for their Meme Mahangu brand, Namib Mills' needs to mill 11 tonnes of mahangu daily.

“Currently we have five tonnes of mahangu left,” he said, adding that Namib Mills will be out of stock of Meme Mahangu in just over six days. “Letters to this effect have been sent to our clients.”

AMTA had advised that the border was opened for mahangu imports on 18 December last year, but were closed again on 22 January to allow farmers to sell their surplus product from the 2018 harvest season. Agriculture ministry executive director Percy Misika announced in a 23 January media statement that the “Namibian Agronomic Board will close the borders for the importation of mahangu until all the available surplus mahangu is marketed”.

To further compound matters, should the borders be opened immediately, it will take another 65 days from the contract date to import mahangu, as it is imported via Namport from India.

Moreover, two SME millers purchase mahangu from Namib Mills, and the company cannot supply their clients at this point, as their factories are idle. Sofia Negonga from Punikwa Agro-Processing in Windhoek, supplies mahangu flour.

“My primary market are residents of informal settlements in Windhoek. We are now threatening our own food security in this time of drought,” she said.

Negonga, who has six full-time employees, told Namibian Sun she would have to retrench three immediately, and if the situation was not rectified soon, she would have to close her business.

She has written to the NAB CEO Fidelis Mwazi, but told Namibian Sun he informed her that the matter was with the agriculture minister.

Van Niekerk also expressed his concern over the crisis and said Namib Mills would lose N$2 million in monthly revenue, adding that “if sanity prevails and the borders are opened soonest for the importation of mahangu, retrenchments are unlikely”.

On 6 May, President Hage Geingob declared the current crippling drought a national disaster, while in March cabinet announced a N$572.7 million drought relief package for 2019 to 2020.

Neither AMTA nor the agriculture ministry had responded to questions at the time of going to print.