Maize growers are in a fix over the rock-bottom prices the crop is fetching on the market following delay by Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) to open its markets.
It is expected that Admarc will be buying maize at the government recommended price of K170 per kilogramme (kg).
Spot checks conducted this week in Lilongwe, Mchinji, Machinga, Mulanje, Mzimba and Mzuzu revealed that farmers are selling the crop to vendors and other people at as low as K40 and K50 per kg, with the highest price being K70 per kg, which is K2 000, K2 500 and K3 500 per 50kg bag respectively, because the farmers say they need money for their other needs.
“Admarc has not opened its markets, but we need to survive. We have no option but to sell our maize at these prices,” said Keseni Dade, a farmer from Mitundu in Lilongwe.
His sentiments were echoed by his villagemate, Amon Banda, who has harvested over 100 bags of maize. “If Admarc had opened, markets, we could have sold our maize there because vendors are ripping us off,” said Dade.
But Admarc says they are yet to start buying maize because they are assessing the grain’s moisture content. It is the same story in Mchinji where vendors have set up camps at trading centres all the way to the border with Zambia and are buying soya, beans and maize in huge quantities.
“We will be selling to vendors because they are the ones who are buying and can reach the remotest places and if Admarc is not careful, they [vendors] will buy all the maize on the market,” said Banda.
At these low prices, farmers cannot also recoup what they invested to grow the maize.
According to one Lilongwe farmer, she spent K170 000 on her one acre and she has harvested 30 bags.
This means it cost her K5 670 to produce one 50 bag of maize. She regrets that if she had kept the K170 000 and used it to buy maize now, she would have bought 75 bags of 50kgs each.
In Traditional Authority (T/A) Mlonyeni in Mchinji, village head Maganga said his subjects have no option but to sell their maize to vendors because they want money.
“These people need to survive and vendors are buying the maize from them. Right now, my subjects are being forced to sell to vendors because there is an outbreak of typhoid in the area and they have to pay upfront for medical services,” said Maganga.
Maganga said even the police, who have approached him to stop his subjects from selling to vendors, are powerless to curtail the trade in the area because that is how his subjects survive.
One vendor in the area, Jolias Melosi, said he is buying the crop because that is his business. “I am in produce trading and these farmers come to us because they need money to buy household needs,” said Melosi.
A commercial maize farmer, Benard Makoka, from group village head Mheriwa, T/A Nsanama in Machinga, in a telephone interview last Wednesday said they have lost out as farmers.
“Our investment for the whole year has gone down the drain. But we need the money now to pay school fees, foot bills and buy other items.”
Another farmer, Emily Miliasi from Njedza Village, T/A Chikumbu in Mulanje, had a similar story about her maize harvest.
“I got 67 bags from my three gardens. But the problem is that I don’t have any money, after buying fertiliser, chemicals and paying casual labourers for farming and harvesting. Under the circumstances, I had to sell 20 bags. But I am not happy having lost like that. If only government would send Admarc to buy at a higher price, the better,” she said.
Hoarding the maize In the Northern Region, Senior Chief Mabilabo of Mzimba, who grew maize on 10 hectares, said the prices on the market are exploitative.
He said with various problems that people are facing, some farmers are left with no choice but to sell the maize at K40 per kg.
“Some are thinking of keeping the maize until the prices pick up but we have different problems. Some can hold on but others can’t,” said the Senior Chief.
Another farmer, Franklin Hara, who is based in Mzuzu but has a farm at Baula in Mzimba, said he expected the commodity to fetch more than K200 per kg.
But he said in Mzuzu vendors are selling the grain at as low as K100 per kg, translating to K5 000 per 50kg bag.
He said he will keep his harvest until the prices pick up as selling at K100 per kg will be a total loss considering the money invested. Aaron Thindwa, a farmer based at Enukweni in Mzimba, said the cost of producing maize is much higher than what is being offered on the market.
He said farmers in his area about 40 kilometres from Mzuzu are selling the maize at K50 per kg, which is way below the K170 perkg government price. He said he, too, will keep his maize until prices pick up, saying if he is to sell now, it will be hard for him to invest again in the business.
Chrispin Ngwira, a commercial farmer at Enukweni, said farmers have found themselves in a difficult situation which only government can manage by instructing Admarc to immediately start buying maize from them.
The rock-bottom prices for maize this year come on the back of a projected surplus of the crop after two consecutive years of poor harvests due to drought and floods that slumped agricultural output by 35 percent.
Agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono-Mvula said by selling maize at rock-bottom prices it means that farmers will always be poor as they are not reaping from their sweat.
He said vendors are taking advantage of the farmers’ poverty to offer low prices.
Said Nkhono-Mvula: “These farmers will never get out of the poverty cycle if they continue selling their crops at such prices. These prices are a mockery to the farmers. The problem is that the information farmers have comes from the vendors themselves.”
Nkhono, however, urged the farmers not to sell their maize now because it still has moisture.
Admarc assessing moisture content In an e-mailed response on Monday, Admarc public relations manager Agnes Ndovi said the corporation will buy various agricultural produce this season, including maize.
“Our pest and quality team is already on the ground checking moisture content. In fact, Admarc has already started buying the crops which have the right moisture content and maize will follow as soon as we are advised to do so.”
She said Admarc will be buying the grain at the governmentapproved price of K170 per kg and volumes to be purchased will be determined by the demand, adding that the corporation is still selling maize at K250 per kg. She did not want to say how much maize Admarc has from the previous year.
But a visit to some Admarc markets in Blantyre on Thursday revealed that people were not buying from the corporation, preferring to buy the cheaper maize from vendors and other traders.
Such was the case at Ndirande and Zingwangwa markets, which were open but deserted, while the one at Chilomoni was closed although people were buying from vendors around.
In Chirimba, vendors are selling a 50kg bag of maize at K4 500.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Aggrey Massi, in a telephone interview on Wednesday, said his ministry has engaged all stakeholders in all agricultural development divisions (ADDs) including chiefs, to sensitise farmers on the need to only sell their maize at government-set prices.
“We know the farmers need money, but they should stand their ground; otherwise, Admarc will soon announce dates when they will start buying maize,” he said.
The question is how soon? Government early this month banned maize exports by smallholder farmers, arguing it could be maize grown from the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp).
But Massi described the move as a temporary restriction which awaits final crop estimates, after which government will decide basing on the figures of how much food the country has. —Additional reporting by CHRISTOPHER JIMU and GEORGE SINGINI, Staff Reporters.