By Tadala Kakwesa:
Tomato production in Malawi mostly happens during both the cold and dry seasons. Tomatoes are largely produced in Mzimba district in the north, Ntcheu, Dedza and Mchinji in the centre and Chiradzulu, Thyolo and Mulanje in the southern part of the country.
They are mostly grown by subsistence farmers with technological knowledge other than relying on fertile soils and wet valleys in their areas.
However, these farmers do not have steady markets for their produce apart from relying on local markets, vending and door to door selling. Considering how essential tomato is to every household, such strategies may seem feasible but not in relation to the amount of input and the rate at which tomatoes take to perish.
Stella Mussa, popularly known as Mache Sitisiyana is one good example of such farmers involved in tomato production. She comes from Chiradzulu near Mbulumbuzi. She grows her tomatoes on a two hectare farmland with her husband. She sells the tomatoes from house to house chinyonga, chitawira, naperi and Mkolokosa.
She used to grow and sell on her own until she was joined by her second husband who mostly does the production now, while she concentrates on marketing.
But she complains that it is hard work as she is required to wake up early in the morning to catch up with mostly lorries and trucks that ferry her and others to Limbe and connect with minibuses to various destinations.
Mache Sitisiyana narrates a sad story of how she helplessly watches her hard earned tomatoes go bad after harvest just because of lack of steady markets. She says she mostly manages to sell half of her harvest and the rest she sells to fellow villagers as livestock feed.
“At times, I get tired of going to town everyday and just stay and try to sell locally at home but the challenge is that we sell cheaply and don’t make much money, my husband also can’t help in this since it is me who has established customers whom I just go directly to,” she narrates.
Mache Sitisiyana’s situation only represents thousands of other tomato farmers in the same situation, and yet this is a country that is struggling to try out new export potential industries to alternate tobacco.
The biggest challenge is the lack of modern technologies and knowledge to the farmers on preservation techniques and value addition which leads to wastage hence fewer benefits.
Retail food outlets such as shoprite, chipiku, Sana, Peoples and Game Stores, among others, sell various finished products made from tomatoes such as purees, ketchup, jam and others. A tin of a 500 grams tomatoe puree may demand about K1400 and yet our tomatoes are sold as cheaply as K1000 per 5 litre buckets along the M1 Road such as Zalewa, Lizulu, Bembeke, Jenda and others.
Small Medium Enterprise and Development Institute (Smedi) Chief Executive Officer James Kazembe admits the seriousness of how lack of proper processing technologies is affecting the agriculture industry here in Malawi and how other countries are taking advantage.
Kazembe says Smedi which was formed as a combination of three others institutions namely Sedom, Demat and Medi is in the process of drafting an SME bill and review of the SME policy document and a strategic plan in collaboration with its line ministry.
Modern technologies use methods of food such as drying, smoking, freezing, heating, salting, Sugaring, cooling, pickling, Pickling, Lying, Jellying, Jugging Burial, Curing and many more. And yet, here in Malawi, probably only the first four are the ones commonly used.
A 1998 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report, titled Economic Aspects of Development of Agricultural Alternatives to Tobacco production and Export marketing in Malawi, authored by private consultants Charles Mataya and Ernest W. Tsonga, establishes that tobacco production in Malawi if well coordinated can be one of the largest revenue earners for Malawi if the industry.
The report which assesses a number of potential agricultural alternatives to production and export marketing of tobacco from Malawi provides analysis and findings on current profitability of alternatives as well as potentials for employment and export earnings, as compared with tobacco.
The report says most crops from subsistence farmers in Malawi provide them with extremely poor financial return. “Seven to 20 different activities return little more than K1,000 per hectare with average management and five activities offer income greater than K5,000,” reveals the report
It attributes the situation to lack of bargaining power on the part of smallholder farmers which limits their capacity to influence factor and product prices in their favour.
Statistics from Food and Agricultural Organisations (FAO) show that Malawi’s tomato production has been progressing from 12,000 tonnes to 45 000 tonnes in 2011. It rates Malawi as the 96th world largest tomato producer out of 142 countries. It fetches 41.582 metric tonnes every year grown on 4.585 hectares of land. And yet, only 90.691 hectogrammes are yielded per hectare of land putting Malawi on a 142nd position.
This means that despite the vast land, the country is failing to realize a satisfactory harvest and even revenue from this sector which Kazembe attributes to the lack of capacity building initiatives and technology that could enable the farmers grow produce high quantity and quality tomatoes.
Kazembe admits the fact that value addition is very important to our country.
“It is true that a larger percentage of our farm produces is wasted, the problem we have is that the technologies that are supposed to process such products are not readily available and if they are, they are imported from outside and very expensive making them unaffordable to our people,” laments Kazembe
He says the absence of proper statistics has created a knowledge gap on the number of farmers involved in tomatoe production, quantity and even markets and consequently disabling the institution from coming up with effective interventions.
He says once the SME policy has been formulated, he is optimistic that government will provide the Smedi with necessary training and adequate resources in form of infrastructure for mobility, communication so that Smedi reaches out to all areas of the country.
“If we don’t know them it could be possible that whatever they are producing is not tailor made according to the needs of their targeted clients hence making the final products not user friendly”, said Kazembe.
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