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Tightening noose on unscrupulous traders

NOT FIT FOR USE—Malawi Bureau of Standards officials destroy nonstandard scales

KHOMBE—We are trying to sensitise the general public

You may think you are buying five kilogrammes and, yet, you are buying far less. It is a problem that is rampant and we are trying to sensitise the general public to end this unfair trade

Nothing, not even insatiable appetite for money, could have prepared one hapless vendor for what could have been the end of his life on Wednesday, May 4 2022.

For whatever reason, the vendor decided to trek to Kabudula, on the way from Lilongwe’s Airwing to Kasungu via Santhe.

“We just saw a man, who came in a one-tonne vehicle, setting up equipment such as weighing scales and public address system. He then started buying soya beans at K700 per kilogramme (kg). I was one of the people that flocked to the place with soya. But, then, we, farmers, have become clever this time around, in the sense that we weigh the soya on calibrated scales to know the quantity before we take it to vendors, who have come from all parts of the country to buy soya here.

“I was shocked that, despite my calibrated weighing scales indicating that I had 420 kilogrammes of soya, the vendor’s weighing scale markings indicated that my soya was weighing 389 kilogrammes, which made me suspect that his weighing equipment was faulty. I called the chairperson of the market and the vendor started running away from the scene,” said Kondwani Martin, a 42-year-old man from the area.

He said people started chasing the vendor, who, in the heat of things, left his vehicle behind.

“Fortunately, police officers, who happened to be patrolling the Kabudula area in a Land Cruiser, were at the scene within minutes and saved the situation,” he said.

According to Grain Traders and Processors Association Chairperson Grace Mijiga Mhango, soya is fetching good prices this year as, in most parts of the country, it is fetching K700 per kilogramme (kg), especially in Lilongwe.

In some parts of districts such as Dedza, some people are buying the commodity at K820 per kg.

Last year, the commodity was fetching 900 per kg when the market closed.

Output for the commodity is projected at 323,386 metric tonnes (mt) in the 2021-22 farming season.

In the preceding period of 2020-21 farming season, Malawi produced 264,497mt and realised over $450 million (approximately K41,2 billion).

However, some traders are taking advantage of the situation to dupe farmers.

In Dedza District, police have, in the past 12 days, arrested three people for indulging in practices such as weighing scale tampering and buying farm produce at prices lower than farm gate prices set by the government.

Earlier this year, Agriculture Minister Lobin Lowe announced farm gate prices which, he said, were minimum.

He indicated that buyers could buy farm produce at prices higher than those fixed by the Central Government.

Lowe pegged the minimum price of maize at K220 per kg, shelled groundnuts at K740 per kg, unshelled groundnuts at K450 per kg and soya beans at K480 per kg.

According to Dedza Police Station deputy spokesperson Beatrice Jefita, anyone found tampering with weighing scales will be prosecuted.

“We are committed to making sure that vendors and traders in general are using weighing scales that are certified by the Malawi Bureau of Standard.

“Using weighing scales that have been tampered with is a violation of the law,” Jefita said.

The World Food Programme (WFP) advocates the use of weighing scales, indicating that using scales eliminates price disputes, promotes predictability and increases chances of economic development because standardization gives small-scale farmers greater access to more standardised international markets.

WFP has been collaborating with government agencies, especially in countries such as Ghana, on the benefits of adopting standard weights and measures.

However, in Malawi, unscrupulous traders continue to dupe farmers and consumers in general by tampering with scales.

The Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) has, for example, been grappling with traders who do not use calibrated scales.

It, however, said the influx of substandard weighing scales in the country’s markets poses a challenge to the promotion of fair trade among buyers and sellers.

MBS Public Relations Officer Monica Khombe indicated, when the bureau destroyed 358 uncertified weighing devices (scales) confiscated from Southern Region traders recently, that the bureau’s officers have confiscated 950 uncertified scales countrywide.

“Consumers, including farmers, continue to get a raw deal when selling their farm produce,” Khombe said.

She added that some unscrupulous traders are buying from farmers using tampered weighing gadgets and then selling the produce to consumers with the same adjustable weighing gadgets to ‘dupe’ the buyer.

“You may think you are buying five kilogrammes and, yet, you are buying far less. It is a problem that is rampant and we are trying to sensitise the general public to end this unfair trade,” she said.

From the look of things, traders seem to have inherited some unfair trading practices that may take ages to uproot from Malawi society— of course, at the expense of the consumer.

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