Malawi is losing K360 billion (about $490 million) annually in foreign exchange earnings for failing to utilise export opportunities of over 800 000 tonnes of rice demanded globally.
This represents about 32 percent of the 2018/2019 National Budget, which stands at K1.5 trillion.
The loss covers budget estimates for top three priority ministries—of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development (K151.98 billion), Education, Science and Technology (K86.38 billion) and Health and Population (K75.15 billion)—which will get the budget’s lion’s share.
In an interview last week, African Institute for Corporate Citizenship (AICC) rice project manager Leonard Chimwaza said this is the case because farmers are not well organised.
“There are 5 000 rice cooperatives in Malawi, but what they are producing is very minimal. They are failing to produce the required amount of rice due to the high cost of production and, because of that, most of the rice does not reach the international market,” he said.
In Malawi, rice—which accounts for 60 percent of the cultivated land—is largely produced by small to medium subsistence farmers mainly scattered along the lakeshore areas and the Shire Valley.
Chimwaza said potential yield for Kilombero and Faya rice is 4 000 to 5 000 kilogrammes (kg) per hectare (ha), respectively.
But he noted that the farmers have been harvesting only 1 500 and 2 000 kg respectively, rendering a deficit of over 3 000 kg.
This means that for every 1 000 ha farmers are failing to produce over 3 million kg (30 000 metric tonnes), which can be exported in countries like Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other African countries that produce extremely low quality of the commodity.
Director of crop development in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Godfrey Ching’oma said Malawi is banking on the yet to be reviewed rice development strategy, investments being made in irrigation schemes and plans to join Coalition of African Rice Development, a continental initiative that is aimed at boosting rice productivity in the whole region.
Currently, Thailand, Vietnam, China, the United States of America (USA) and India are the five top rice exporters in that decreasing order. These exporters were responsible for about three-quarters of the world’s rice exports in 2002.