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New Inland Port Set to Improve Regional Trade
By Claire Ngozo

Construction of Nsanje port, Malawi.

NSANJE, Malawi, Oct 25, 2010 (IPS) - Land-locked Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe expect to improve their import and export fortunes following the opening of an inland harbour, the Nsanje World Inland Port, on Malawi’s biggest river, The Shire.

The Shire, which lies on the southern border between Malawi and Mozambique, flows into the Zambezi River and on to the Indian Ocean via Chinde port in Mozambique. The Nsanje World Inland Port, constructed at a cost of 3.9 billion dollars, is about 238 km from Chinde.

Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika presided over the ceremony marking the opening of the Nsanje port on Oct 23 this past weekend. Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and Zambian president Rupiah Banda attended the function.

Currently, Malawian traders mainly make use of the port of Beira in Mozambique. Transporters cover a distance of about 1,700 km on a return trip between Malawi’s commercial capital, Blantyre, and Beira, according to Shadreck Matsimbe, executive director of the country’s Road Transport Operators Association (RTOA).

"A return trip to Nsanje is only 400 km, which will allow transporters to save on transportation costs," said Matsimbe.

Traders have moved into the area around the port, buying up land to set up businesses, according to the district commissioner for Nsanje, Rodney Simwaka. "There are over 800 applications for land. We should be able to start distributing plots in the next two months," Simwaka told IPS. The proposed developments include warehouses, office blocks, houses and hotels.

Business is already booming in Nsanje, enthused Mainess Kaminga, a trader who has been running a grocery store for six year a short distance from the port. "I am now selling more stock and making more profit than ever before. This place has become a hive of activity since construction of the port started in June 2009," Kaminga told IPS.

From an average profit of 200 dollars per month, Kaminga’s shop is now hitting profits of up to 500 dollars a month.

Local produce exporters are also looking forward to profiting more from utilising the port, explained Mike Mlombwa, president of the Indigenous Business Association of Malawi (IBAM). IBAM wants to use the port to export maize, rice, pigeon peas and beans and to bring in fertiliser and fuel.

"We are hoping that commodity prices will go down once the port is operating because of reduced transport costs and that this will have a positive impact on the country’s economy," said Mlombwa.

Malawi expects to save 175 million dollars of its total annual import bill when the new port becomes fully operational in Dec 2010, according to Sidik Mia, minister for transport and public infrastructure.

The government hopes that the reduced transport costs will facilitate increased production of agricultural crops such as maize, cassava, sweet potatoes and rice. "This will enhance the country’s food security," he said.

Mutharika does not regard Malawi as "land-locked" anymore due to the new port. Through cross-border trade the new harbour will also benefit other countries in the region, he added. These include Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The Nsanje port is not only for Malawi. It is for many countries in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region. It is Malawi’s desire to develop the Nsanje port to the standards of the Hamburg port in Germany," Mutharika said.

Mugabe agreed: "We people from SADC must look at this project as our project together. Let’s enable it to function fully. The people of Zimbabwe will support this project by having some of our import and export goods pass through this port."

Banda called the port a "dream come true" for the region. He said the port would also assist in lowering the cost of living in SADC.

But the project has not been spared of teething problems. A trial run with a barge, carrying up to 200 tons of export fertiliser, failed when the barge did not turn up at the port on the day of the opening.

Mutharika explained to the crowd that had gathered to witness the docking of the barge that the Malawi government had failed to finalise the clearance process of the barge with the Mozambique government.

The Malawian president however assured people that the barge would "soon" dock at the port. He did not reveal exactly when.

Mozambique is calling for an environmental and economic viability study before full navigation of the Zambezi River is allowed.

Malawi’s ministry of transport and public infrastructure insisted on Oct 20 that the "trial navigation" process would continue as part of the required study. "The information being collected is part of the study," said Victor Lungu, director of planning in the ministry. (END)

:cheers: Malawi is doing big things. They've done well with food security and now this! Mutharika's focused.
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