Project Innovation Centre (PIC), a local firm, says it plans full-scale production of sunflower cooking oil at its Balaka plant by December this year.
PIC chief executive officer Kondwani Ngwira said in an interview on Wednesday that the firm has ventured into production of cooking oil following a bumper yield of sunflower at its 10 farms across the country.
He said: “The production we are doing now is running the machines first. We hope to fully go operational by year end as we are still harvesting the crop which we hope to be in excess of 500 000 kilogramme [kg[.
“We are using the cake for feed manufacturing. We are not producing in brands. Our goal is to produce at wholesale and sell to retailers.”
Ngwira said the project has already created 300 direct jobs and about 4 000 indirect jobs mostly from people sub-contracted as workers at its nine farms in Kasungu, Salima, Ntcheu, Balaka, Blantyre and Lilongwe.
The firm enters the market at a time cooking oil prices on the local market are rising following increased prices of raw materials, which are mostly imported.
Last month, Ministry of Trade and Industry started issuing import licences for cooking oil to address erratic supply of the commodity on the market and control surging prices.
The ministry’s spokesperson Mayeso Msokera said imports are allowed from time to time based on assessed demand.
Recently, many retail shops in cities run out of locally produced cooking oil, stocking only imported brands.
The situation, according to Oilseeds Producers and Processors Association president Peter Ngoma, resulted from the acute foreign exchange shortage, which made it difficult for producers to access raw materials.
Although the situation seems to have normalised, consumers are still paying more for the commodity as a two-litre bottle is selling at an average of K6 500.
This is about 50 percent more than what consumers were paying for the same quantity during the same period last year.
A recent study on legumes and sunflower production in Malawi conducted by Unfairtobacco shows that sunflower is an important source of income, contributing between five and 10 percent to annual household income as well as foreign exchange earnings.
Malawi generates an average of $600 000 (about K600 million) from sunflower, according to the study.
However, with the annual demand for sunflower in Malawi at between 30 000 to 40000 metric tonnes (MT), domestic production remains low at around 15 000MT, an indication that there is huge untapped market for the commodity domestically.
The National Export Strategy also identified sunflower, alongside beans, groundnuts, pigeon pea and soya bean as potential viable alternatives for tobacco farmers.