Some businesspeople in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, are a making a killing out of rice husks by exporting to Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The rice husks, which are used as animal feed, are being exported from Lilongwe’s Mchesi Township, the biggest single selling point of rice in the city.
In Mchesi, there are over six rice millers processing over 500 bags of the product per day.
The rice is brought to Mchesi from Nkhotakota, Salima, Karonga, Chikhwawa, Zomba and Dedza by farmers for processing.
One of the millers, a Burundian, who did not want to be identified, said they are making more money on the rice husks because there are people buying from abroad nowadays.Â
â€œThere are two grades of husks, the first type is used as cushions in chicken pens and manure while the second type is used for feeding animals such as goats, chickens and cattle.
One 50 kilogramme bag of husks used for animal feeding was selling at K800, but now the price has gone up to K1 000,â€ said the Burundian.Â
A Malawian national, Saiti Luka, who has been in the rice selling business since 2006 says he gets his rice from all the regions and feels the country could do well if the husks were used for making animal feed within the country.
â€œThese husks were cheap, but now some people come here, pay the owners of the rice mills and the millers keep the rice for them. They donâ€™t sell the husks to anybody else even if you pay them a lot,â€ said Luka.
When Business News visited Mchesi to buy a bag of the first grade husks on Wednesday, one miller supervisor refused to sell, claiming they were already paid for by a Zimbabwean.Â
Another miller could only sell after the price was adjusted to K1 000.
â€œThese husks are in huge demand and I have kept some for my customers who buy in large quantities. Many people have discovered how good the husks are and they are in high demand,â€ said the miller.Â
Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Felix Jumbe said this is a missed opportunity for farmers to improve their livestock.
â€œWhen we say we have problems to improve our livestock sector, this is one of the reasons. Our friends in Zimbabwe take livestock farming seriously and we should do the same,â€ said Jumbe.Â
HeÂ also said government must move quickly on its plans to form a bank for farmers because the country can only improve if farmers are given loans which will empower them to improve farming methods.
One of the livestock farmers, Mathew Nkosi, who is also project coordinator for Southern African Confederation of Agriculture Unions (Sacau) agreed with Jumbe that the country needs to improve its livestock sector because it is far behind in terms of producing quality beef in the Sadc region.Â
â€œThe Malawi beef industry has not developed into an exporting industry and there is currently no beef being exported at the moment.
â€œMany farmers are still depending on grazing and, with erratic rains in many areas, the animals do not reach their potential growth, making the quality of beef not to be world class,â€ said Nkosi.
Another farmer from Mponela, Mikisoni Mikwala, said dairy cattle does well if fed supplements, but with the current economic outlook, it is difficult to buy the feed; hence, farmers resort to grazing.
â€œThe feed is becoming expensive and the animals cannot produce the required milk because the quality of food we are giving them is poor. If we had money we could have been buying the rice husks and feed our animals but even at K1 000 per bag, we find it expensive,â€ he said.
Recently, President Joyce Banda told a gathering in Machinga that dairy farming is more profitable than being a teacher if one takes his farming seriously.
It is yet to be seen if government will deliberately put in mechanisms to help livestock farmers acquire loans to help feed animals to improve the quality of beef and milk.Â
However, with a population of 13 million and cattle population of 947 498, Malawi might find itself continually importing beef.