Under the roofs of dilapidated structures in Ndirande Township in Blantyre is a booming local industry crying for Malawians’ patronage. The township’s Chinseu area is always a beehive of activity, with loud sound of wood and metals being the order of the day.
Men and women in dirty uniforms are seen running up and down as they work on producing various products that they sell. From furniture to household items or motor vehicle spare parts, they have it all.
Here, the same products that are sold at higher prices in town fetch much lower prices. Reason? They are manufactured locally.
“It is not always true that the only good products are imported ones,” says Rex Jobe, a carpenter in Ndirande.
He claims some big furniture dealers buy their products on wholesale to stock up their shops.
“Come on Fridays or Saturdays, you will see vans loading different items. They take them to their shops in urban centres and sell them at higher prices,” reveals Jobe.
On average, a sofa set will cost about K400 000 (about $581) in local furniture shops while a similar one that is imported will cost about K1.2 million (about $1 745).
“Our setback is capital and machinery. This is why we sometimes take long to finish a product,” says Sosten Banda, a Blantyre-based carpenter.
Economists have argued that the country’s trade deficit is a time bomb. A huge trade deficit means that Malawians are spending more on imports than they do on their own economy.
Currently, the country’s deficit is about K300 billion (about $436.4million), an equivalent of nine percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
A National Statistical Office (NSO) report shows that between 2009 and 2014, exports and imports increased by 159 and 245 percent respectively. This shows Malawi is doing more importing than exporting.
During the Buy Malawi Strategy (BMS) launch at Bingu International Conference Centre (Bicc) recently, President Peter Mutharika said Malawi has made important strides towards the long-term goal of diversifying its economic base. But he confessed that the country is still a largely importing one, not producing.
“This is the price we pay for having an economy with a weak productive sector,” said Mutharika.
Government launched BMS to reduce the import bill and close Malawi’s wide trade deficit.
The BMS final report illustrates steps government plans to take to promote local producers and overturn the people’s desire for foreign products over locally made.
Mutharika describes the BMS an oath of patriotism.
“By importing, we export valuable jobs, we import inflation, we strain our forex cover and complain that our currency is falling. I challenge the private sector to be innovative, to diversify their portfolios and become aggressive in producing value added products for both domestic and foreign markets,” he said.
John Kapito, Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director, describes the action as ‘workable’.
“We need to buy local products. We need to grow our own market and produce more. This is the first step every Malawian should take,” says Kapito.
He, however, says customers need to be protected.
“We need a body, a consumer council established by the law to be operationalised. If we want to have a progressive MBS, we need to operationalise the consumer protection law. It effectively safeguards the consumers,” suggests Kapito.
He says a consumer protection council would safeguard consumers against fake local producers and ensure they access only quality products.