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Cotton farmers let in the cold

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MIA – They cannot sell their cotton

The Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) is mandated by the government of Malawi to buy crops from farmers on its behalf. But, on the ground, the state grain trader is starkly failing to fulfil its mandate, JUSTIN MKWEU writes.

Admarc opened its markets in April this year to start buying crops such as cotton from farmers.

However, in Chikwawa District, farmers are spending nights at Admarc depots waiting for the state grain trader to buy their produce.

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We have also discovered that not only is Admarc failing to buy the cotton, but it is also offering prices lower than those recommended by the government.

In Chikwawa Nkombedzi Constituency, Ngatha Admarc Deport, some 10 kilometres away from Ngabu Trading Centre, in the Shire Valley District, bales of cotton pile up like abandons cargo with their owners hopelessly waiting for when they would get money from their toil.

Thirty-eight-year-old Charles Ledford, who sold his cotton on credit at the depot three weeks ago and started spending his days and nights at the depot two weeks ago waiting for the money, cannot go back home for fear that he will miss his payment if it comes.

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He claims that authorities told him that money for the 15 bales that he sold would arrive in a week and that his cotton has not been ferried from the depot.

“I sleep outside to safeguard my cotton because even though I sold it on credit, it is still here with Admarc not providing the required security. I have to protect my produce,” Ledford said.

Details that we got hold of also indicate that Admarc is buying the cotton at K369 per kilogramme which is less than the K389 price recommended by the government.

“I sold my cotton at K369 per kg even though we hear in the media that we should sell at K389 per kg and when we asked about the discrepancies, we were told that they have been told by their bosses that there should be a cut of K20 per kg,” another farmer Leonard Nkhunda said.

The fact that farmers spend time at the depot guarding their produce means food has to be brought right there for them.

During our visit, a woman came to deliver food for her husband who has been spending days and nights at the place for more than three weeks.

She said she brings the food in the morning and at noon only because she cannot travel at night which means her husband does not take supper.

“My husband has been here for three weeks and he is waiting to sell on credit 25 bales and we are worried because we are spending more and it is like we do not have a father at home because the husband is here guarding the cotton,” she complained.

Chimanga Valeta, who is chairperson of Cotton Farmers Association of Malawi, said the situation at Ngatha Admarc Depot is just a drop on the ocean if one looks at what cotton farmers go through in the district.

He indicated that he has also sold his cotton worth K3.7 million at an Admarc depot in the district but he is yet to get the money.

“We also have some organisations that are buying our cotton at K270 per kg but they are not allowing us to go with them to where it is sold so that we see for ourselves how it is weighing. We are just told the weight of our bales and the amount of money that we would get,” Valeta said.

Member of Parliament for Chikwawa Nkombedzi, Abida Mia, says she asked government in Parliament to consider the plight of farmers in the district who are not reaping what they deserve from their toil.

In an interview during our visit, Mia said there are fears that the situation will worsen hunger in the district which already suffers from food security challenges.

“The farmers are in dire straits. They cannot sell their cotton. I would like to plead with the government to pay these farmers because they have invested a lot in their farming. It is their only source of income,” Mia said.

Admarc spokesperson Agness Ndovi said the government had not yet given money to the parastatal to buy the crop the time we visited depots in Nsanje.

“Admarc buys cotton as buyer of last resort but government has not yet released the money. We are still waiting and once the money has been released, we will pay the farmers,” Ndovi explained.

Asked why the government is ‘delaying’ to give Admarc money to buy cotton, Ministry of Agriculture Spokesperson Priscilla Mateyu promised to come back to us but we did not hear from her until we went to press.

An Agricultural expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula believes Admarc is in the situation because it wanted to fulfil politicians’ ambitions.

“I do not think Admarc was ready to start buying cotton but politicians wanted to respond to political rhetoric and eventually the government became overstretched,” Mvula.

Cotton estimates in Malawi for 2020 have been pegged at 40,000 metric tonnes and the Shire Valley is likely to contribute a larger chunk of the produce as the crop fetched fair prices last year, a thing which propped more farmers to grow the crop.

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