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The importance of using farming advisory services

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As farmers are busy in the fields preparing for the forthcoming planting season, the importance of information as to what crop to plant and how it should be produced is significant as this is what determines what the farmer would eventually reap from the work.

While farmers who produce purely for food may do without advisory as long as what they end up harvesting is enough to meet their consumption needs, those who do it commercially require a lot of information to ensure that they make a profit at the end of the day.

Information farmers need include that to do with crops on demand, prices that may be offered, the varieties required by buyers, the right production methods for the crop, where exactly they will sell the crop and other such information.

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In Malawi, farmers can get information from various sources, including agriculture extension officers, research institutions, universities, farmer associations, non-governmental organisations, input supply companies, financial institutions, commodity exchanges and others.

Many radio stations in the country also run various programmes on farming where experts discuss various issues and even allow listeners to call

and ask questions where they need clarification or particular information on farming.

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There is also a lot of information on the Internet for those with the means and knowledge of accessing reliable and appropriate websites on particular crops and markets on the worldwide web.

What has happened to Malawian pigeon pea farmers and traders this year is a good example of how lack of information or misinformation can negatively affect the business farming.

We had at the beginning of the season traders who speculated on prices for the crop and disseminated wrong information to farmers and the general public, a development that led to wrong prices being offered for the crop on the market.

There were also some NGOs supporting farmers in the production of pigeon peas that are reported to have been involved in the dissemination of misleading information about prospective prices of the crop.

As a result, traders started buying the crop from farmers at prices as high as K600 per kilogramme, with information going around that international buyers would be offering prices as high as K1,000 per kilogramme for the pigeon peas.

What eventually happened, however, is that real prices for the crop internationally were much lower than the speculated ones and exporters are offering prices much lower than those traders paid to farmers to make sure that they are able to make a profit from their transactions.

There are now traders who have either sold their pigeon peas at a loss or are holding on to quantities they bought at high prices, hoping for an improvement in prices for them to sell at either a profit or just break even.

Yet there are institutions in this country that are well entrenched in the international business of pigeon peas and other commodities and could have provided the right information if only those interested in the crop had approached them.

Going forward, the lesson learned is that it is risky for one to venture into the business of farming and trading in agricultural crops without access to reliable information about the crop.

Traders and farmers should not go into the production and marketing of the crop without proper and adequate information. Let us make use of available sources of information to make sure that we are well informed and properly prepared on the particular crop to avoid losing money and getting disappointed at the end of the season.

Demand for pigeon peas and other legume and grain crops remain high on the international market and it is important for Malawi to continue growing these crops in large quantities to take advantage of the situation and earn foreign exchange for the country.

These crops also provide Malawian farmers with alternative cash crops they can grow as tobacco continues to face problems on the international market.

But such diversification should be based on proper information and knowledge. When a farmer is well prepared when growing a crop, profits can come not only from high prices but also from high yields obtained through adherence to best practices in the production of the crop.

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