By Wezzie Gausi:
Some vendors continue duping farmers in some parts of the country, where they are buying maize at as low as K70 per kilogramme (kg), which is 53 percent below the government-set minimum price.
The government set K150 per kg as the farm gate price for maize this year, translating to K7, 500 per 50kg bag.
Spot checks by Times Business show that, in most parts of the country, especially in the Central Region, the price of the commodity remains lower than at the same time last year and way below the minimum price.
In Dedza District, for instance, some farmers were selling their produce at as low as K70 per Kg while in other parts of the Northern Region like Mzuzu, prices for the grain ranged between K100 and K150 per kg.
At the same time last year, maize prices were at K130 per kg on average, also way below the K200 minimum price set by the government.
Random interviews with farmers show that they were at the verge of losing out this season.
“We are very worried about this year’s selling season. We have no choice but to sell our maize at a low price as there are no other reliable markets,” said Group Village Head Mnjolo of Dedza District.
Growers’ representative body, the Farmers Union of Malawi (Fum), feels this is retrogressive, saying farmers would not make the most of their toil if the problem were not addressed.
In a recent interview, Fum President Frighton Njolomole called on the government to take quick action by adjusting farm gate prices upwards to protect farmers.
In an interview on Wednesday, local agricultural commentator Tamani Nkhono Mvula said the price fluctuation could be attributed to myriad reasons, including delays by state-run grain trader, the Agricultural Agricultural Development Marketing Corporation (Admarc), to start buying the commodity in most parts of the country.
“The only solution to such a situation is having reliable markets like Admarc in remote areas. On the other hand, let the government put mechanisms to enforce farm gate prices,” Mvula said.
Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu said the government was aware of the scenario on the market and was working with law enforcing agents to protect farmers from exploitation.
“Currently we have a toll free line where farmers can call and report all traders that are doing the injustice of buying below set minimum prices. And I must say that a lot of people have already been arrested over this,” Lungu said.
Estimates show that maize production will increase by 17.5 percent to 4,447,494 metric tonnes from 3,785,712 metric tonnes produced last season.
A recent report by the International Food Policy Research Institute indicates that less than 10 percent of farmers who sold maize in June received a price equal to or greater than the minimum farm gate price.