Plans to engage commercial farmers with the capacity to grow irrigated maize have flopped after only four companies out of the expected 25 participated in the exercise and the output was below expectation, it has been established.
During the 2016/17 season, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development targeted commercial farmers to grow about 10 000 metric tonnes (MT) of maize. However, only about 2 300 MT were produced by the identified companies.
The February 13 2016 call for expressions of interest asked interested private sector maize growers with the capacity for irrigation farming to supply maize and that the government would then buy the maize grown by the private sector to restock the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGRs) in the 2016/17 season.
The interested private sector farmers had to indicate the size of land they could allocate and expected output in MT per hectare as well as their capacity, including infrastructure and skills.
But The Nation has learnt that most of the companies that submitted bids wanted the government to assist them with funding to increase capacity to grow the maize.
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has confirmed that out of the 25 companies that submitted bids, 11 were successful, but only four participated.
The four that participated were Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited, Demeter Agriculture, Whitechurch General Dealers and Nexious Investment.
The ministry’s spokesperson and coordinator for the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), Osborne Tsoka, said contributing factors to failure to meet the targeted output from the exercise included lack of technical capacity by the companies.
He said some companies indicated huge hectarage to grow the maize, but on assessment, it turned out they had little capacity.
Said Tsoka: “The reasons for the failure were as follows: Scarcity of water as we were coming from a season that was characterised by dry spells and drought; Resource constraints as some contractors wanted upfront payment and government couldn’t do that.”
But from the failed programme, government has learnt that there are some companies with the capacity to grow maize on a commercial scale, he said.
“Some have capacity others do not have. Companies such as Illovo Sugar and Demeter Agriculture proved that they have great capacity,” Tsoka said.
National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) chief executive officer Nasinuku Saukira has since indicated that part of the 36 726MT currently in SGRs was bought from the commercial farmers.
NFRA is currently buying about 200 000MT from private traders to fill the reserves.
Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), among other stakeholders, has been in the forefront calling on the government to prioritise commercial farmers compared to importing maize which they said was more expensive. n