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Potatoes could save Malawi from rising wheat costs

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MONTGOMERY—Add value to products

Scaling up the production of potatoes and cassava could help save Malawi from escalating wheat costs which have driven up the price of bread, the Ministry of Industry and Trade has said.

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Industry and Trade Christina Zakeyu was speaking in Lilongwe on Wednesday when she opened a Root and Tuber Crops (RTC) Producer and Buyer Business to Business (B2B) Market Symposium.

According to Zakeyu, it was intriguing to see bread made with Malawi sweet potato puree mixed with wheat flour, tomato sauce made with local cassava and Malawi sweet potato flour during the symposium.

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“We do not produce wheat but it is recorded that the country imports up to an average 310,000mt of wheat. Given that OFSP puree can replace 40 to 60 percent of wheat flour in processed products, the opportunity for significant substitution is a win-win for farmers, processors, consumers and the country’s economy at large.

“My ministry is convinced that root and tuber crops products present a nutritious alternative to reduced flour importation through its substitution in these products and save 20 to 60 percent of forex,” she said.

Bread prices have risen in recent weeks, fueled by a weak supply of wheat on the international market.

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A standard loaf of bread has catapulted from an average of K500 to around K750.

Zakeyu encouraged cassava and potato producers to operate as SMEs and cooperatives to sustainably serve the market.

“We hope that business deals can drive more investments into production capacity of the mentioned products. We are aware of the financing challenges the sector faces as compared to other value chains.

“The government wants the sector to improve and that is why my ministry is working with that of agriculture, the trust and its partners in concerted efforts to narrow the bottlenecks the sector is facing through events like this one. More recently, my ministry has been working with the RTCDT to regularise rural RTC value chain producers as cooperatives that are formal businesses to conduct formal trade as well as secure financing for the development of the sector,” she said.

Irish Deputy Head of Mission, Mark Montgomery, said Malawi has over the years presided over advanced research into improving root and tuber crops agriculture through development of seed and technologies suited for our country.

Montgomery, however, said, for the country to really stage a dramatic revolution of adopting root and tuber crops and making real and substantial growth from them, there is a need to make more sustainable gains in RTC long term utilisation and value addition including processing.

“The science supported by the government of Ireland that has been delivered in the last 15 years is solid. Now is the time to create wider usage of RTC and enhance trade for nutrition, food security and economic value,” he said.

RTCDT Chairperson Jean Pankuku said strong market linkages were critical in ensuring that farmers produced more potatoes and cassava.

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