The Greenbelt Greenhouse Limited (GGL) has outlined plans to engage communities around Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe to form cooperatives for horticultural production for the export market.
The GGL, which has 16 hectares of greenhouse horticultural production, intends to increase production by using out-grower cooperatives, with a focus on vegetables.
The planned initiative want to utilise cargo planes that go to Europe.
In an interview, GGL farm manager Ofer Kahani said they are so far producing high-value horticultural crops such as tomatoes, green pepper, cucumbers and watermelons.
He said local farmers are wary that the company will take away their market once the 16 greenhouses become fully operational, but assured that they are working with small-scale farmers in cooperatives on contract basis.
Said Kahani: “We have vegetable nurseries and a training centre for farmers. The idea is to train them and distribute seedlings and fertiliser to them for high quality production and later buy from them.
“If we join our forces with small-scale farmers and other investors, we will be able to produce desirable volumes to fill a 100 tonne plane with high value horticultural produce and earn the country foreign exchange.”
On his part, Minister of Trade Sosten Gwengwe said the country has been relying on imports of horticultural produce from neighbouring countries; hence, the project will help to initiate import substitution.
“We need to improve on our productive capacity so that we do not import even the basic commodities such as tomatoes. When GGL will operate at full capacity, we believe that we will ban the importation of vegetables and fruits,” he said.
Gwengwe said government is working to explore strategies on how it can help the company identify regional and international markets, observing that the company is strategically positioned at the airport.
In an interview, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources agricultural economist Horace Phiri said the proximity of production to the airport is meant to facilitate the shipping of products with a low shelf life to export destinations.
He said if the scheme is well conceived and decent prices are paid to farmers, it will be a boost to farm income, especially now when the main export crop tobacco is facing huge uncertainties.
“If successful, it will be a model where other enterprises with export potential can learn and establish similar setups,” said Phiri.
He, however, noted that the company may suffer from high shipping costs because Malawi is known for high air freight costs in the region.
“This makes our goods expensive compared to those from neighbouring countries,” he said.
GGL is a partnership venture between government through the Greenbelt Authority and an Israeli company Inoselia.