Malawi has potential markets for rice in Africa, Asia and Europe, but farmers produce below the required demand, according to African Institute of Corporate and Citizenship (Aicc).
The observation by a non-governmental organisation that promotes the role of business development comes in the wake of complaints by rice growers that they lack viable markets for the commodity, a development which pushes down output.
In response to a questionnaire, Aicc chief executive officer Felix Lombe said rice farmers in Malawi have potential to export their commodity to Zambia, South Africa and the European countries because buyers from these countries have shown interest.
Figures based on Aicc research show that annual consumption of rice in Zambia is between 60 000 and 65 000 tonnes, but the country produces between 40 000 and 45 000 tonnes, creating a deficit of 15 000 tonnes which is supplemented by imports.
He said: “Zimbabwe does not produce rice locally and its demand is met through imports as evidenced in 2015 when it imported over 300 000 tonnes of the commodity while South Africa demand stands at one million tonnes annually,” he said.
Lombe said farmers in Malawi grow rice in small quantities, a situation which may see them fail to meet international demand, thereby stagnating the agriculture sector’s growth domestic product (GDP) growth, which has been stagnant at 30 percent.
According to figures provided by AICC, Malawi grows rice on 65 000 hectares when it has the potential to grow it on over 200 000 hectares.
The average potential yield for kilombelo, faya, pusa 33 and TCG10 (the popular rice for cultivation in Malawi) is between 4 000 and 5 000 kilogrammes (kg) per hectare.
This means the country can produce over 20 million tonnes of rice if 200 000 hectares is fully utilised.
This would be enough to feed South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other countries for a year.
But agriculture experts argue there are still challenges contributing to farmers’ failure to grow more rice, citing inadequate water harvesting structures.
Another setback, according to experts, is the high cost of inputs such as fertiliser and failure to advance Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) that would be important for the development and maintenance of dilapidated rice schemes.
“Most of the rice schemes are in a dilapidated state since primary and secondary water ways have sediments blocking the area to be cultivated. Considering that public resources are limited, the only way is to venture into PPP to ensure development and maintenance of schemes”, said one expert.
Meanwhile, Asian rice suppliers are dominating the market in Zimbabwe with Thailand being the leading supplier accounting for 34 percent of total import volumes in 2015, according to figures.
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Principal Secretary Erica Maganga recently told the media that rice farmers should sell their produce through cooperatives rather than selling it individually for them to maximise economies of scale.