Maize farmers say government is not helping them to get just rewards for their sweat by continuing to ban export of the staple grain.
Government banned maize exports early this year to avoid creating shortage for the grain.
This year, according to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, the country produced a maize surplus of more than 30 percent.
In an interview, a Lilongwe-based farmer, Mary Chakwera, wondered why government set up a minimum price of K170 per kilogramme (kg) and yet vendors are buying at K40 per kilogramme.
“As government, you teach us good methods of agriculture so that we produce more, but once we have produced a surplus, you close the borders. So, where do you think we can sell our maize.
“As government, you set up a minimum price of K170 per kg for maize and yet the vendors are buying at K40 per kg and you just watch. Why can’t you penalise them?”.
Another farmer, Hastings Mshane, wondered whether the country has proper marketing systems for smallholder farmers, who, he observed, are always on the receiving end of bad prices.
“I am surprised that farmers do not have enough information on export markets and in the end they sell to vendors,” he said.
Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) former president Felix Jumbe, who is also legislator for Salima Central, has faulted the country’s food supply system, saying countries such as Uganda have never banned maize exports and there is need to borrow a leaf from them.
However, a grain trader said there are no markets for maize outside the country.
“As traders, we could have found our way to export the maize, but currently there are no markets outside there.
“When there is a market there is nothing stopping a vendor to export,” said the trader.
But Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development director of planning Alex Namaona said the issue of maize ban is a bit tricky and needed to be handled cautiously.
“In 2001, we also exported maize and what happened, some people lost jobs. What is needed is to grow other crops apart from maize,” he advised, adding that Zambia and Tanzania once banned maize exports.
Commenting on the same, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism spokesperson Wiskes Nkombezi, while admitting that the current marketing system is chaotic and not helping government, said more needs to be done to structure the markets the way the tobacco auction systems works.
Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) deputy head of agribusiness Sellah Gondwe said farmers should know that maize is a political crop which cannot just be exported anyhow.
But African Institute of Corporate Citizenship (Aicc) chief executive officer Felix Lombe said a majority of farmers will struggle to buy farm inputs for the next growing season due to poor prices prevailing on the market this year.
“Prices of agricultural commodities continue to plummet with maize being sold at K40 per kg, against an official price of K170 per kg. It means farmers will struggle to provide for their households.” n