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Farmers’ frantic call for organised markets

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CHIUMIA—It was a loss to Milele

Chairperson for Engucwini Cooperative in Mzimba District, Malumbo Chiumia, boasts of a bumper yield she and other members of the group reaped the last growing season.

Its 358 members garnered over 80 metric tonnes of shelled groundnuts, the highest bulk they have recorded since 2014 when they came together to form the group.

They sold 30 metric tonnes to Milele Agro-Processing Company—which works with the farmers throughout the production chain—and offered the remaining tonnage to vendors.

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Chiumia admits that selling their produce to vendors earns them lesser returns when compared to the effort that goes into production and defeats the purpose of cooperatives, which is to sell farm produce in bulk at competitive prices.

She says because the market is liberalised, even if off-takers such as Milele strike deals with the farmers and assist them with extension services, among others, and agree on prices, vendors offer prices which are deemed higher because they do not take into consideration the services offered by the off-takers.

“For example, we signed an agreement with Milele to sell our groundnuts at K850 per kilogramme. But vendors came and offered higher prices and the agreement was therefore tampered with because some farmers were secretly selling their groundnuts to the vendors, which was a loss to Milele,” the mother of three says.

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The cooperative, which mainly focuses on growing legumes, maize and chilli, has arable land stretching across 122 hectares.

Each of the 358 farmers—205 women, 93 men and 60 youths—has their plot on the land where they grow their crops.

Chiumia claims that members of the cooperative now understand that selling their commodities to vendors actually profits the merchants and deprives the country of the much-needed foreign currency.

“The vendors smuggle the farm produce outside the country. So, what we need are structured markets where cooperatives can sell their produce in legitimate ways. In Kenya, for example, cooperatives are said to be contributing tremendously to that country’s economy,” she adds.

Anthony Chisambi, Agriculture Extension Development Coordinator for Engucwini Extension Planning Area, agrees with Chiumia that ready and structured markets allow farmers to reap enough from their sweat.

“For instance, if farmers agree to grow groundnuts and sell it at a contract price, the farmers will sell their produce at that fixed price even if prices are generally going down elsewhere,” Chisambi says.

Chiumia and other members of Engucwini Cooperative are benefitting from extension services offered by Milele, one of the off-takers in a project dubbed Sustainable Agriculture Production and Marketing for Rural Transformation.

In the project, funded by the United Nations Development Programme through the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), the African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (Afap) is coordinating off-takers to improve productivity of groundnuts among 20,000 smallholder farmers—12,000 women and 8,000 men— through the adoption of good agronomic practices.

The farmers are from Lilongwe, Kasungu, Mchinji, Mzimba, Dedza and Rumphi districts.

Afap is also championing the improvement of farmer-market linkages for groundnut value chain and fostering increased participation of private sector organisations in the value chain.

Agra Malawi Country Manager Sophie Chitedze says structured markets will assure Malawi earns foreign currency as exports are properly regulated.

“The forex that is being taken out of the country by some foreign traders can be reclaimed if the markets are structured. Without such markets, it is difficult to trace where the payments are going.

“At least, Milele follows all the export procedures up to South Africa and even Rwanda. With them, it is easy to trace the money that is coming back as forex,” Chitedze says.

Milele Agro-Processing Malawi Managing Director, Gloria Phekani, waxes lyrical about the commitment of the farmers in adopting improved farming practices that are increasing their yields.

Phekani, however, decries the fact that even after her company provides extension services to farmers, and gives them seed and a groundnut shelling machine, they still offer their produce to vendors.

“The vendors literally reap where they never sowed. They come to Malawi to buy from farmers they did not help in any way.

“They do not go through banks; they come with their money in bags and the country is losing out. Apart from structured markets, the farmers need awareness,” she says.

Her company is reaching over 10,000 farmers in Malawi by providing them with competitive market prices in the groundnut value chain and has over 37,000 farmers when other value chains are brought into the equation.

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