Malawi is in talks with Ukraine, Brazil and Mexico to source corn, a staple food, as about half the African country’s population of 17 million faces shortages, a minister said.
“We are so certain about Ukraine,” Agriculture Minister George Chaponda said. “We are also in talks with Mexico and Brazil. However, we may have challenges with Brazil because our neighbors have already sourced a bigger chunk of corn from that country.”
The southern African nation is looking to Europe for the imports as its neighbors produced less corn because of the El Nino weather pattern, which induced the worst drought in more than a century in South Africa, the continent’s largest producer of the grain.
Malawi projects a corn requirement of 1.3 million metric tons to feed citizens facing food shortages through March 2017 and will spend 250 billion kwacha ($353 million) on imports, Chaponda told lawmakers Wednesday.
Output has fallen to 2.4 million tons in 2016, the lowest in five years, he said. The nation’s need for the grain for human consumption, seed, stock feed and industrial use is estimated at 3.2 million tons.
The country wants to buy 1 million tons of white corn, its Agriculture Ministry said earlier this month. The variety is used to make a porridge consumed for almost every meal, and the imports are 10 times more than the U.S. government has been projecting Malawi will bring in for the entire season.
Corn prices in the landlocked nation reached a record in February, according to the United Nations.
Outside of southern Africa, only Mexico is a major producer of white corn, and it doesn’t have a lot to export, according to Oxfam. In addition, many of the region’s countries have laws prohibiting imports of genetically modified corn, which rules out much of the supply from the U.S., the world’s top exporter.
While Malawi wants non-genetically modified corn, it may buy GM supplies and mill them into flour immediately after they arrive in the country, Chaponda said.
Mozambique’s port of Nacala has started receiving corn for Malawi and is set to get more than 300,000 tons of the staple from the U.S. from June, Portos do Norte SA Chief Executive Officer Fernando Couto said earlier this week. The first shipment of 6,000 tons arrived on April 29, he said.