In this third part and final part, our reporter BOBBY KABANGO visits some small and medium enterprises and cooperatives to see how Malawi Enterprise Productivity Enhancement (Mepe) project has opened up markets for SMEs.
The Malawi Enterprise Productivity Enhancement (MEPE) goal to ensure that local producers especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and cooperatives are competitive through the launch pad of Buy Malawi Strategy (BMS) is changing the SME landscape in the country. For the first time, between November 23 and 26 2016, SMEs and cooperatives in leather, textiles and agro-processing participated at the Global Expo Botswana at Botswana Conference & Exhibition Center in Gaborone, Botswana to showcase Malawian products. The tour was funded with the technical support from the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (Mitc).
Most of SMEs, especially in the leather sector, came back from Gaborone smiling. “We are just arriving from Botswana where I attended a four-day fair where I amanged to strike some deals for our products. People in Botswana and other countries are interested in our sunflower seedcake,” says Mathias Banda, the Board chairperson of Talimbika Agro
Processors Cooperatives in Salima. Banda whose group produces cooking oil says the Mepe project has been a game changer. “Now I have a list of organisations in Botswana and different farmers of over 100 that I can network with. These people
are interested in the sunflower seedcake for livestock feed,” said Banda. “In fact, we are making arrangements that in the following weeks we should start sending our products to Botswana. Others are also interested in the sunflower cooking oil we are producing,” he adds. Banda explains that since they partnered with Mepe, their business has transformed and is growing.
“We first got certified with Malawi Bureau of Standards [MBS]. Once we had certification, it was easy to find new markets such as super markets like People’s and Chipiku,” Banda explains. He says when Talimbika was not certified, they would post a profit of K2 million per year, but now the cooperative is making more than K11 million per year. Recalls Banda: “At first we were selling to the community and our prices were very low. Now with certification and improved products, we are selling our cooking oil on the counter in big outlets.”
Mepe success is not only being registered in cooking oil production sector. In the textile sector, the improvements are even better, according to Henderson Nyondo, the centre manager for Malawi Council for the Handicapped (Macoha) in Blantyre. Nyondo says Malawi-made products made a name at the fair in Botswana.
“We met different partners in Botswana and our pavilion attracted a lot of people because of the unique, high quality hand
woven fabrics we showcased. I held business talks with three shops in Gaborone who expressed willingness to import our products.
“The exposure was good for us, and if we can have an opportunity to have offices outside the country, we can reach out to international buyers easily,” Nyondo says. He says the shops in Botswana were also more interested in importing men’s formal wear and work suits and traditional wears. The success in Botswana is music to the ears of Mepe project manager Nelson Nsiku, who says the achievement means the objectives of the project are being fulfilled.
“In the year to come, more effort will be directed to strategic business growth and marketing,” he says. A p a r t f r o m g r o w i n g businesses, he says Mepe has earmarked the construction of a processing plant at Kamwendo in Mchinji district and another one at Phalombe Boma to boost SMEs production capacity.
“The two plants will be used for training SMEs and cooperatives and for the production of oils. These will be Centres of Excellence. Mepe will provide equipment for the factories. Malawi has had no Centre of Excellence on value addition for oil seeds for many years,” explains Nsiku.
It is hoped that by next year, Mepe would have increased production of edible oils products among 11 SMEs and over 35 SMEs, and cooperatives would be trained in quality standards with the help of the MBS .
Mepe success is something Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) executive director Dalitso Kubalasa thinks should have been implemented a long time ago. He says SMEs are the future of the country’s economy.
“They are the private sector we need to grow and that we cannot afford to ignore any more. You and I and many more other individuals are a part of it and we need to be nurtured to make smart investments, just as government needs to always make smart investments.
“They need mentorship, they need entrepreneurship development; access to finance and business development skills, and access to developed markets to grow. As we walk the talk, by strategically implementing our policies for Malawi to literally creatively trade its way out of poverty; by creating more wealth, jobs, and achieving inclusive economic growth,” said Kubalasa.