This column was introduced in May this year to advocate the welfare of the farmer and enhance the contribution of agriculture to Malawi’s economy through reforms aimed at modernising farming in Malawi.
Six months down the line, a good number of people have been inspired to either venture into farming or improve the way they have undertaken their farming.
There are on file hundreds of e-mails from various people sharing their plans to start growing crops such as pigeon peas, groundnuts, beans and others after being inspired by this column.
Several senior government officials, including Minister of Trade and Industry Joseph Mwanamvekha and Reserve Bank of Malawi Governor Charles Chuka, have also communicated that they read this column and that they do appreciate the kind of policies being advocated through the articles here.
The message has been very simple. With tobacco facing growing challenges every year, Malawi needs to urgently find alternative means of earning foreign exchange and that agricultural commodities such as pigeon peas, soya, groundnuts, beans and others are currently the only viable options the country has in the short term to save Malawi from the risk it faces with the shrinkage in tobacco exports.
For the legumes and grains to become meaningful export commodities for Malawi, however, there is a need for the government to come up with appropriate policies and legislation to regulate their production and marketing by, among other things, making it mandatory for exports to only go through structured markets as it has successfully been done in Ethiopia and Rwanda.
This is so because there is evidence that in the absence of such laws, these commodities are being exported in large volumes from Malawi but without a means by the government to track foreign exchange earned from the trades.
For example, figures show that Malawi is the largest producer of pigeon peas in Africa, yet it is Tanzania that registers highest exports of the crop even though Malawians only consume 20 percent of all pigeon peas produced in the country.
This clearly means that Malawi produces and exports large amounts of pigeon peas but that the exports are largely informal and unrecorded and that Malawi’s pigeon peas account for a good amount of those shipped to overseas markets such as India in the name of countries such Tanzania.
Last year when the pigeon peas market thrived and reached probably its peak, Malawi is estimated to have produced 335,000 tonnes of pigeon peas. If, say, 300,000 tonnes of this was exported, Malawi should have earned not less than $300 million from pigeon peas exports based on last year’s price of $1,000 per tonne for pigeon peas in India. But official figures show that only $60 million was realised from exports of the crop. Where did the $240 million go?
This is a huge amount of money that could match or surpass what tobacco will earn for the country this year.
The same is the case with crops such as groundnuts. Townships such as Senti, Ntandire and Chinsapo in Lilongwe are now awash with groundnuts shelling businesses being run by Burundians who are exporting thousands of tonnes of the commodity to Kenya through Tanzania through unregulated cross-border trading.
What pains even most is that when these traders go to rural areas to buy the crops, they pay very low and exploitative prices to our farmers.
What all this means is that it is foreigners who are benefiting from the production of these crops in Malawi at the expense of our farmers and the economy. The message here over the past six months has been that the government needs to urgently intervene on the agriculture commodities market to protect the interests of the farmers and the country.
Circumstances beyond the author’s control have, however, forced the “On the Saddle” column to take a pause while other appropriate mediums through which its mission can be continued are being explored.
Many thanks to Times Group for having provided this space over the past six months and to you all readers for the attention and very encouraging feedback. The mission, however, has to continue and we should be able to meet somewhere very soon.
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