Farmers say minimum farm produce prices set by Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development will be meaningless if authorities do not protect them from unscrupulous traders.
Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) expressed the sentiments in the wake of the release of 2018/19 Farm Gate Prices. On paper, the prices are higher than those offered in previous years, but FUM insists that protection is needed to ensure that farmers benefit.
In a telephone interview yesterday, FUM president Alfred Kapichira Banda urged government to empower chiefs in villages and other leaders in trading centres to ensure that no trader is offering farmers lower prices than the recommended ones.
He said: “These prices seem good, but there is no protection, direction and authority. What government must do is to ensure that chiefs in villages are given that authority to make sure no one is exploiting us, the farmers, by paying less than what is recommended.
“These figures [prices] should not just be on paper. They should be enforced because the trend has been that farmers have never benefitted from set prices.”
Kapichira Banda said such strict enforcement mechanism would motivate farmers to produce more.
Commenting on whether farmers will benefit from the new prices, agriculture analyst Tamani Nkhono-Mvula said that would depend on individual farmers based on their investment. But he observed that most local farmers do not calculate how much they put into their farming.
He said: “Farmers need to budget over and above the prices given. But what mostly happens is that our farmers don’t have the confidence and the muscle to be able to bargain with traders because, in most cases, traders have such information and not the farmers themselves.”
However, Nkhono-Mvula said in practice, most farmers usually sell their produce at prices lower than what is recommended due to lack of alternative markets.
He agreed with Kapichira Banda on the need for enforcement mechanisms to ensure adherence to minimum prices.
But Grain Traders Association of Malawi chairperson Grace Mijiga Mhango described the new prices as unrealistic.
She said: “These new prices will not benefit the farmers because most of those prices are unrealistic in the sense that people would not want to buy commodities at such prices.
“What will happen is that a lot of people will end up being stuck with their commodities.”
Farm gate or minimum prices are usually calculated based on gross margin analysis that shows how much a farmer has invested versus what will be the likely benefit.
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development on Sunday released minimum prices for main commodities with maize pegged at K180 per kilogramme (kg) from K150/kg last year, sorghum fetching K200/kg from K150/kg, pigeon peas (nandolo) is at K330/kg from K320/kg which was later revised downward to K230/kg, cotton (grade B) is at K300/kg from K225/kg and dried cassava at K220/kg from K210/kg while wet cassava is at K60/kg from K40/kg.
The price for mixed beans is set at K340/kg from K250/kg, pure beans K420/kg from K400/kg, cowpeas at K370/kg from K230/kg, sunflower seeds is at K310/kg from K300/kg, wheat K350/kg from K250/kg, finger millet is at K300/kg from K130/kg and pearl millet is at K200/kg from K160/kg.
But prices of commodities that have not changed include soya beans at K280/kg, shelled groundnuts at K450/kg, unshelled groundnuts at K290/kg and cotton (grade A) at K375/kg.
The minimum prices have also been released at a time the second round of crop production estimates project that the country will have a 335 000 metric tonnes (MT) maize surplus.
Reacting to concerns on the relevance of minimum prices, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Principal Secretary Grey Nyandule Phiri said the farm gate prices are relevant and assured that his ministry will strive to ensure that there is no exploitation of farmers.
He said as a control measure, the ministry attaches conditions to permits given to traders to buy farm produce at the recommended price.
Said Nyandule-Phiri: “One of the conditions is adherence to minimum prices and if that is violated, then the law will take its course. If we also find someone buying without that permit, again the law will take its course.”
He said his ministry is aware that people are purchasing the farm produce without the permits, adding that the ministry will follow up such reports to bring the culprits to book.
Nyandule Phiri said his ministry will also be working in collaboration with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism to ensure that traders buy using the permits as part of the control measures of exploitation.
Over the years, farmers have complained of exploitation from unscrupulous traders despite existence of minimum prices.