The year 2021 was economically exciting for legume farmers, especially those who grew soya beans, who raked in more income in many years.
The Malawi Government also secured 50 000 metric tonnes (MT) of pigeon peas export deal to India annually for five years that will translate to 250 000MT at the end of the five years period.
Developments in the legume sector, however, as evidenced by better prices in 2021 such as soya beans, which raked in a record K650 per kilogramme (kg) up from an average K250 to K300 per kg in previous years, signal a positive future for legumes compared to tobacco.
With the government push for export mandates, soya beans earned $100 million (about K83 billion) compared to tobacco’s $196 million (K162 billion) year.
The export mandate is where no commodity is exported unless it goes through a structured market other than those currently enjoyed by two commodities, namely tea and tobacco.
Yohane Dokotala, a farmer from Mitundu in Lilongwe, said in August he sold his soya beans at K600 per kg from his four and half hectare.
He said he sold his soya beans at K270 per kg in 2020 and hoped 2021 prices will be sustained or even go higher in 2022 as he has planned to double his production this growing season.
“I can tell you that if the good prices trend continues, life in the village will be wealthier, we will become rich and be able to afford most things that have been beyond our reach,” said Dokotala.
In a statement, Malawi Investment and Trade Centre board chairperson Karl Chokotho said they received trade inquiries from South Sudan, India, Zimbabwe, Japan, China, Mozambique and Tanzania, among others, for the country’s non-traditional crops such as legumes.
He said the markets are mostly for agricultural products such as soya beans at 69 900 MT, groundnuts 33 140 MT, beans 97 515 MT, sunflower 13 000 MT, coffee 11 000 MT, tomato 720 MT, Sesame seeds 218 000 MT, and rice 80 000 MT, among others.
Chokotho said: “We cannot quantify how much we will realise from these demanded quantities until deals are sealed because of price fluctuations from one country to another.”
Legumes Development Trust manager Sangwani Makoko called for formation of cooperatives as it would be easier to add value, saying even if farmers produce individually, they should be able to aggregate and sell in groups to earn better prices.
She explained that even if the country overproduces legumes, deliberate policies should be put to scale up value addition at community and national levels.
“To encourage massive legume production, government should consider to include legume seeds in the Affordable Inputs Programme to ensure economic benefits apart from achieving food security,” Makoko said.
President Lazarus Chakwera administration’s move to establish export mandates and create new markets has resulted in a surge in proceeds for non-traditional crops, including soya beans.
But while commending the new government for the policies that are putting more money in poor farmers’ pockets, experts say more needs to be done for the small-scale producers to earn even more.
Agriculture policy development expert Tamani Nkhono-Mvula agreed with the Legumes Development Trust that to sustain prices, farmers should be in cooperatives to bargain.
He urged local farmer organisations to ensure they secure and sign long-term contracts with external buyers.
He said the trade war between the United States and China, which saw a ban on soya bean trade, left China with no option in 2021 but to buy the produce from Africa, including Malawi and other continents.
“We need to have structured markets like what the government is doing to champion trade through export mandates. This is one of the best ways to manage prices,” Mvula said.
National Working Group on Trade Policy chairperson Frederick Changaya, who is also managing director of Applecore Grain & Milling Limited, said availability of markets remains key to sustainable production and better prices.
He called on government to continue exploring external markets for farmers for non-traditional crops.
Changaya said: “Obviously, prices will collapse with high production, cleverly, government should expand local to external markets. It will be disappointing to raise farmers’ hopes with better prices only to have highly suppressed prices next year, government should plan ahead to sustain the current momentum.” The Ministry of Trade in a statement said between January and June 2021, the country exported 119 621 000 kg of soya beans which followed steady increase in prices from K320 per kg, to K510 then a jump to K650 per kg.