Maize prices have plunged, with farmers in some rural areas selling it at K15 per kg, which is 57 percent lower than the minimum farm gate price of K35 per kg.
The low maize price may well be fine for town dwellers with the ever-rising cost of living; but it is definitely bad for the farmers; because it is far much less compared to the cost of production which includes inputs such as seed, chemicals, fertiliser and labour.
In its Basic Needs Basket for April 2012, Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) said it is worried because when prices are low, producers hardly find enough money to buy farm in-puts for the following growing season.
CfSC has since called on government to adopt a regulatory approach to maize, arguing that as it stands, it is the intermediaries (traders) benefiting from maize growing than the producers themselves.
â€œWe applaud the Ministry of Agriculture for introducing the minimum farm gate prices for agricultural produce. By setting minimum prices, producers can anticipate the prices and that enables them to plan for the future.
â€œIn spite of introducing the minimum prices, most producers are â€˜forcedâ€™ to sell their crops at a lower price to middlemen because Admarc delays in buying from farmers. Thus, government ought to re-enforce these minimum farm gate prices by raising awareness among small producers. Admarc also ought to start buying maize from farmers in good time so as to protect them from being exploited by traders,â€ the report reads in part.
Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security spokesperson Sarah Tione acknowledged in a written response to a questionnaire last week that farmers in need of cash are currently selling their maize.
She said with liberalisation, government supports the producers by giving them the necessary information for them to make good decisions.
â€œOne such way is the release of minimum prices, but the need for quick cash is what might be pushing farmers to sell their maize. As a way of making sure that farmers benefit from their labour, we have officers across the country to disseminate the required information to the farmers.
â€œFurther to that, government collaborates with private traders to advocate for the need to offer prices that do not reap off farmers from their labour and also collude on prices offered. But as indicated, most of the farmers selling their maize are in desperate need for cash; maybe because that is the only crop they produced,â€ said Tione.
Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Felix Jumbe warned last week that selling maize, which is the countryâ€™s staple crop, does not necessarily imply overproduction at household level, but producers are pressed to sell and raise funds for their basic needs and other non-farm commodities such as school fees, clothes and also meeting their medical expenses.