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Crooked sale of pigeon peas

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PARALLEL MARKET AT ADMARC—Traders take advantage of frustrated farmers

Every farming season, peasant farmers break their backs to till the soil for a living. Pigeon peas farmers are not an exception. For years, the farmers have had relative joy as there was a ready market for their produce, especially in India in the Far East. This year, the song has been different. When news trickled in that the once-upon-a-time-ready market for pigeon peas was shut, farmers were forced to sell their pigeon peas—locally known as nandolo—at very low prices, actually as low as K30 per kilogramme (kg), to vendors. It came as a surprise when the government—after the vendors had sold their pigeon peas at obscenely cheap prices—said it would buy the legume at K230 per kg. Public discourse has been that the government deliberately pegged the prices at the inviting price of K230 per kg so that traders connected to the ruling party, and had bought the pigeon peas at a cheaper price from vendors, should sell to Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc). In this week’s series of Friday Shaker, FESTON MALEKEZO goes to observe shenanigans characterising the pigeon peas market.

Following the government’s decision to start buying pigeon peas, through Admarc from peasant farmers in the country, some farmers have started punching holes in the procurement process.

A fact-finding mission at Luchenza Depot in Thyolo District on Thursday last week revealed nothing but raw anger, burning frustration and heartrending complaints of farmers who trekked from Mulanje, Phalombe, Thyolo and Chiradzulu districts to sell the crop.

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Branching off the main road to the depot, a fleet of pigeon-peas-filled trucks—over 20 in number—had been parked in the warehouse for hours—some for days—waiting for a turn to sell the grain.

One of the farmers from Mulanje, Shardreck Soza, had been waiting for his turn since the previous Sunday.

“I initially came here last week Thursday to appreciate market trends; then I went back to inform fellow farmers back home,” he said.

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Soza is one the farmers in the 372-member Khajavo Producers and Marketing Corporative and, on this day, they had brought 1,000 bags of pigeon peas.

“We have another stack of over 1,000 bags at home but we are yet to make a decision on whether to come back here [to sell] because we are frustrated. There are some people here, I would not know whether they work here or somewhere else, who are demanding K1, 500 per bag as a bribe from those who want their nandolo [Pigeon peas] to be sold before others’. I cannot do that [give bribes] because the pigen peas I have belong to numerous farmers back home. Vendors are able to pay the K1,500, because they can make a decision on their own; no wonder they are selling quickly,” he said.

Soza also fears that some politicians who bought the crop are selling easily than others.

“We have noticed, for quite a while now, politicians who would just call an Admarc senior official here to let his [politician’s] truck enter the gates and have the nandolo sold. There was some sort of fracas on Saturday when we refused entry some trucks belonging to politicians. Later, we also found that some people would just use a name of an influential member of the ruling party for easy entry into the depot,” he said.

A farmer from Thyolo District, Master Musunge—who does his farming under Khonjeni Producers and Marketing Corporative— which has 272 members said he had brought about 400 bags for sale. He is worried of incurring costs on the vehicle he hired while waiting for his turn to sell the commodity.

“We were charged K130,000 for a day’s trip but, as the days are accumulating, we are told to add some money to what we had agreed earlier. I have been here from Sunday [to this day]. This also means the food we are eating here is not all that good and we cannot bath,” he said.

As the struggle rages, some vendors have established parallel selling points just a few metres from Luchenza Admarc depot. They are selling pigeon peas at an average price of K130 per Kg.

“I am contemplating selling my pigeon peas to vendors because I have been here for four days now,” said a farmer, who only introduced himself as Mikeyasi, who had brought two tonnes of pigeon peas.

According to the farmers, prices of pigeon peas were better off in 2015 when traders were buying at an average price of K600 per kg. In 2016, the prices went down to an average price of K350 per kg. The prices further went down to an average price of K180 per kg in 2017 and later to about K50 per kg in 2018.

When put to her, Luchenza Admarc Supervisor, Ruth Pagonegone, refused to comment on matters surrounding the purchase referring us to Admarc Chief Executive Officer, Margret Loka Mauwa, who simply said. “I will call you” when contacted.

Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism spokesperson, Wiskes Mkombezi, said these are operational issues that would better be explained by Admarc.

“I, at least, know that Admarc set up measures such as instituting community committees which would be used for recognising those that are selling [to authenicate] if they are indeed farmers, among other measures,” he said.

Similarly, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Joseph Mwanamvekha, referred us to Admarc officials as they were mandated to do the job.

“We just financed them to roll out the programme but, of course, we receive reports from them from time to time through our Principal Secretary [in the Ministry of Agriculture]. So, should you need detailed information, the CEO[Chief Executive Officer of Admarc] should be able [it to] provide you,” he said.

Farmers Union of Malawi President, Alfred Kapichira Banda, said it is frustrating that, for a long time, peasant farmers have been struggling to get better returns for their produce.

“We feel t h e government deliberately buys farm produce when most peasant farmers have sold their crops to vendors. It is not surprising then to hear stories that politicians and other government officials are having an upper hand in the selling of pigeon peas. This issue must be addressed once and for all,” he said.

The issue of pigeon peas market attracted public attention when the government announced that it had started buying the grain at K230 per kg at a time farmers had sold their produce for as little as K50 per kg to vendors.

The conspiracy theory is that the government had deliberately pegged up the price so that those connected to the ruling party, and had bought the grain at a lower price, should sell it with an aim to share proceeds with the ruling party.

Recently, business tycoon Leston Mulli, who trade in agricultural produce among others, said he did not buy pigeon peas during the 2017/18 agriculture season having noticed that the crop was not doing well on international market.

Last month, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Goodall Gondwe, said the government has tapped K4.8 billion from the Unforeseen Circumstances vote of the 2018/19 budget to buy 23, 000 metric tonnes from local traders.

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