As tobacco continues to face barriers on the international market because of the mounting anti smoking lobby, Malawi is yet to identify a viable alternative cash crop to replace the country’s ‘green gold.’
In the face of this dire situation a new ray of hope has been cast on the country’s farming arena as a new firm is promoting the production of high value horticulture crops with contracted farmers.
The company, Agricos, based in Lilongwe is contracting farmers whom it is providing with agriculture extension services to the point of harvest and later helps them source viable market both locally and internationally.
According to the company’s operations and projects director, Justine Kaliwo, there’s high potential which remains untapped in horticulture in Malawi so much that farmers would easily switch from tobacco without having to worry about reduced annual income.
Explains Kaliwo: “In fact, based on our market research Agricos conducted, farmers can end up making more money from horticulture than they do with tobacco.”
He says the company aims at selling over 75 percent of the produce on the export market while supplying the remaining 25 percent to the local market.
In his view, the current market is so huge that it may not be easy to satisfy it adding that this is why they resorted to entering into contracts with the farmers where the company shall be monitoring and providing extension services to the farmers in order to ensure high quality products therefore high value for the farmers.
In order to ensure sustainability of supply of produce, Kaliwo said that the company has assigned farmers to plant in specific times so that there is a continuous supply of produce as buyers’ demand.
“Of the 425 contracted farmers we currently have across the country, we have assigned them in different groups that will enable us to harvest every month from the month of April. That is, we are starting to export some of the high value horticulture crops in April,” he says.
Some of the targeted crops are watermelons and red, yellow and green pepper also collectively called capiscum.
“For April alone there is a demand of over 500 tonnes of water melons and 10 tonnes of capiscum. The demand for capsicum is 50 tonnes but according to yield projections we will manage to supply 10 tonnes,” Kaliwo says.
However, he also points out that there is need for government to come up with deliberate policies aimed at promoting this type of ventures.
In his view, Agricos is making efforts to promote horticulture such by providing of extension services to farmers and sourcing of market, areas which have been in dire need in the past years.
He adds, government needs to enter into agreements with other countries to promote the exporting of the agriculture commodities.
“Another way could be for government to consider reducing some taxes thereby incentivising the efforts of producing and exporting the agriculture commodities,” he argues.
Some of the newly contracted farmers in Lilongwe who are in partnership, Grace Kayanula and Alice Kunchulesi, are optimistic that the venture they have entered into is going to bring them realistic profits from their farming.
In her words Kayanula says that it is high time other crops received attention and also bring returns worth the efforts in the field.
“We are happy that Agricos is providing us extension services for the growing of watermelons and in our contract they have also committed to finding a viable market for the produce that we are going to harvest,” she says.
On the market provision, Kaliwo indicates that Agricos is going to give farmers three options; the first one being where the farmer will be linked with a buyer either local or internationaly and the farmer will decide to sell based on the buyers conditions.
The second option is where the farmer will be allowed to find his or her own market other than by Agricos.
The last option is what is being called On Farm Bulk Purchase where Agricos is going to buy directly from the farmer.
“We will be buying on a pre projected price as per contract agreement and the company will sell wherever it pleases,” says Kaliwo, sounding optimistic.