Yosefe Bolamoyo is a potato farmer based in the city of Mzuzu. The only market that Bolamoyo has for his potatoes is along the road which passes through Vigwagwa Market in the city.
There are times he makes loses when his potatoes develop black heart compromising quality mostly when they stay long in the sun on the open road market.
What Bolamoyo suggests is having entities that would be purchasing grains, semi- perishables and perishables from farmers and sell them as semi-finished or finished products.
But as reality has it, most farm produce such as semi-perishables and perishables are left to waste along the roads of Malawi and in most cases farmers are forced to sell them at the lowest price just to get rid of them.
“In 2011, I lost K450 000 after supplying rotten potatoes to Mzuzu University, all because I had no market to sell them in time,” Bolamoyo recalls.
Bolamoyo now lust for regional markets to open under the free trade area banner so that losses can be minimised.
Bolamoyo now hopes the grand Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) offers hope to farmers that in future more buyers will pop up as markets open up in the region.
President Peter Mutharika already signed the (TFTA) agreement at the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El Sheikh on June 10.
The TFTA aims at bringing three regional economic communities (REC) of (Comesa), East African Community (EAC) and Sothern Africa Development Community (Sadc) into a common market from Cape to Cairo.
With a combined population of 625 million people, covering 17.3 million square kilometres and with their gross domestic product (GDP) at $1.3 million, the TFTA will enable countries that previously were not able to access other markets to do so.
For example, Egypt and Kenya will be able to access South African market, which currently they are not able to as they are Comesa member States while South Africa is under Sadc.
Muthalika has since labelled the TFTA meeting as one of the most important meetings his government has attended so far.
Mutharika is on record saying the country must take advantage of the TFTA to produce goods that can sell on the bigger market and if we do not have such goods then there is no point having such a market.
Does Malawi have such goods to compete with at a larger African market
running from Cape to Cairo?
According to Comesa’s report, Key Issues in Regional Integration III Malawi’s export potential is in live poultry, groundnuts, cotton seed, natural calcium phosphates, precious stones (other than diamonds) and semi-precious stones.
That is why former president of the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) Mathews Chikankheni says Malawi should be more aggressive on exporting agricultural produce processed into semi or finished products.
“Let the business community seize this opportunity and be more aggressive in exports,” Chikankheni says.
While there are fears that big economies in the TFTA will override smaller economies like Malawi, Chikankheni is upbeat about Malawi’s potential.
“Malawi needs to concentrate on areas that it can compete best. Let us turn the National Export Strategy (NES) into reality,” he said.
Chikankheni said Malawi has oil seeds such as soya and groundnuts, which can be processed and exported as well as boosting sugar exports.
He says the country needs to move a few steps forward and start processing agricultural produce.
Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Competition Commission (CCC) executive director George Lipimile contends that the country should also strive to reduce agricultural produce.
He says Malawi is wasting a lot of agricultural produce by selling them along the roads.
“Travelling through Blantyre to Lilongwe, I see a lot of wastage in these items that would otherwise be processed into finished products and be exported,” he says.
If processed, Lipimile said such products would help Malawi to compete in the TFTA when it is ratified in 2017.
Benefits of integration
Regional integration has been considered as one of the prominent strategies for development among countries and regions as it promotes economic growth, industrialisation, infrastructure development and investment.
Therefore, with TFTA, which is being held by traditional market integration, infrastructure development, and industrialisation as its three pillars, there is so much hope for Malawi to grab more opportunities than challenges from the regional economic communities (RECs).
As the general secretary for Comesa Sindiso Ngwenya rightly puts it, TFTA is an opportunity to Comesa member States and not a threat, but the challenge is to get this message across to the general public, civil servants and private sector.
Will Malawi seize the opportunity and work on value -addition chain?