Hampered: Sound agricultural policies

I had two secondary school children that needed schools fees,” said Boniface Banda, a 34- year-old father of three who specialises in tobacco and maize cultivation’. When, in April 2021, First Grade Magistrate Anthony Banda fined nine men K100, 000 each for contravening farm gate prices and buying farm produce from farmers without licences, Salima- based 45-…

When, in April 2021, First Grade Magistrate Anthony Banda fined nine men K100,000 each for contravening farm gate prices and buying farm produce from farmers without licences, Salima-based 45-year-old maize farmer Fred Gama was not at Mponela Trading Centre in Dowa District, where the buyers were convicted.

“I, however, hoped that time when unscrupulous vendors, most of whom have no licences, buy farm produce from us and pay us a pittance. You know, we spend a lot of lot of money from the moment we plant to the time we harvest.

“We are talking of fertiliser, chemicals, labour, food for people who work in the field. We also spend a lot on transport, say when we go to Salima Town to buy inputs, among other things. However, things have not changed for the better, as vendors have already bought maize at less than farm gate prices,” he said.

This is despite that, earlier this year, Agriculture Minister Lobin Lowe announced farm gate prices, indicating that the minimum price of maize would be K220 per kilogramme (kg), shelled groundnuts at K740 per kg, unshelled groundnuts at K450 per kg and soya beans at K480 per kg, among others.

However, according to Gama this has not been the case because the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) entered the market late.

“If you visit Nakondwa and Katerera, for example, you will find that vendoes started buying maize in April at K150 per kilogramme. Farmers have lost a lot to unscrupulous vendors but they had no choice because they needed the money,” he said.

Admarc itself, which is mandated to be buying produce from farmers, has, sometimes, been failing to meet its own buying targets.

For instance, the corporation struggled to meet the target tonnage of maize it planned to buy from farmers in the 2020-21 growing season.

The institution initially announced that it would buy 200,000 metric tonnes (mt) of maize but only managed to purchase 150,000mt as of January 11 2022.

Admarc spokesperson Agnes Ndovie indicated that, as at that time, the southern part of Malawi had no maize, such that they had closed buying markets there [Southern Region].

If Admarc had come into the market earlier than vendors, Gama is sure that farmers would have made a killing.

“Admarc is, sometimes, known to buy farm produce at above farm gate prices,” he said.

However, this has not been the case this year, as Admarc has delayed its entry into the market, amid concerns over the moisture content in maize.

At M’ponela, Tchawale and Mtsilo trading centres in Dowa Ditrict, for example, farmers have been selling a kg of maize at between K120 and K200, which is far below the farm gate price.

“I sold my maize at K120 per kilogramme in early April this year. I had two secondary school children that needed schools fees,” said Boniface Banda, a 34-year-old father of three who specialises in tobacco and maize cultivation.

Dowa is one of the districts where vendors are known to buy produce at below farm gate prices.

Farm gate prices and the charge of operating without a licence are covered under Section 3(2) (a) as read with regulation 8(a) of Agriculture Produce Act.

That is how people like Fadwick Mitengo, 39, Issa Byson, 25, Dziwani Willard, 22, Yusuf John, 25, Petro Maguza, 25, Yamikani Chinseu, 27, Lonjezo Bakolosi, 29, Manase Kapida, 40, Sandram Sosten Chimbereko, 37 found themselves in a situation where they were fined by a court of law.

Just this year, Police in Dedza District arrested three vendors for buying farm produce at below minimum prices.

Dedza Police Station assistant spokesperson Beatrice Jefita said they would intensify operations to track down traders who are not complying with government-set farm gate prices.

“We are reminding traders that they have to make sure that weighing scales they are using are certified by the Malawi Bureau of Standards before they start using them to avoid contravening provisions of the law. It is also necessary to stick to farm gate prices,” Jefita said.

President Lazarus Chakwera has also spoken on the issue of farm gate prices.

“I am encouraging those that will have bumper harvest to take care of their yields. If we are to sell, they should sell at the agreed farm gate prices. Malawians invest a lot in production but earn less,” he said.

Chakwera said having cooperatives is one of the ways to deal with vendors who take advantage of the current system.

However, according to Agriculture and Food Security and Natural Resources Cluster of Parliament Cluster Co-Chairperson Sameer Suleman, there is a need to capacitate Admarc financially so that it can be entering the market in time and buying produce at prices that would help farmers meet their needs and plan for the next growing season.

“There is a need for the Ministry of Finance to find means to recapitalise the corporation,” he said.

In the 2021-22 fiscal year, Admarc wanted K95 billion but got K25 billion, which negatively affected its operations.

In the 2021-22 fiscal year, the corporation submitted a budget of K48 billion for the purchase of maize and commercial crops.

Last year, Admarc indicated that it would spend over K62 billion for the purchase of maize from farmers this season as it has now entered the market full-throttle.

Of the amount, K12 billion comes from the Treasury in line with the budgetary allocation for the cause, while the other K50 billion would be loans secured from local commercial banks.

Estimates show that maize production will increase by 17.5 percent to 4,447,494 metric tonnes from 3,785,712 metric tonnes produced last season.

Grain Traders Association of Malawi Chairperson Grace Mijiga- Mhango said they expect prices of the commodity to pick up going forward.

She called on the government to continue securing international markets for the commodity if it is to incentivise commercial farmers to produce more in the coming season.

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