Tangerine farmers in Neno and Mwanza risk losing their livelihood from the crop following an influx of the fruit’s imports from Mozambique this year.
While acknowledging the influx of imported tangerines from Mozambique, Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Alfred Kapichira-Banda has faulted the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development for failing to promote fruit production.
He said: “The problem that we have now is that most of our local farmers who have planted tangerines did not do that for commercial purposes unlike our counterparts in Mozambique who have gone commercial and are raking in millions through the trade.
“Our plea, however, is to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development to start looking at how to promote fruit production because Malawians are now relying more on imported fruits and this overdependence is not good for the economy. We want authorities to look at areas which can do well in tangerine production and assist farmers in that regard.”
The ministry deputy director of crops Bartholomew Ngauma said they are yet to receive information on the same but promised to look into the matter.
The influx has already pushed the price of tangerines down from K100 to as low as K50 per tangerine, according to spot checks on the market.
According to the Malawi Support to New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad)-Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (Caadp) Implementation on Bankable Investment Project profile, commercialisation of high-value crops and commercial fruit production in Malawi is low with exception of tangerines in Mwanza District.
The paper emphasises the need to improve the productive capacity of existing nurseries and to establish new nurseries, especially in areas where government is establishing new irrigation schemes through canalisation technology.
Reads the paper in part: “Mwanza District is one of the areas where such fruit performs well in Malawi. Most of fruit, for example, tangerines and oranges, are old and their productivity is, therefore, low. These trees need to be replaced with new and more productive ones.”
Figures from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) show that fruit yields have been growing at an average of two percent per year.
Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism spokesperson Wiskes Nkombezi has attributed the high imports of tangerines to low production levels.
He said due to low production of tangerines in Neno and Mwanza, local traders have been forced to turn to Mozambique to meet local demand for the crop.
He, however, urged farmers not to panic as this development is not new.
“Malawi always turns to Mozambique to meet the local demand of tangerines as the country fails to produce enough to feed the [17.5 million] population,” he said.
Currently, there are no official statistics of how much tangerines Malawi imports and produces locally.
“Those tangerines are coming in to offset the unmet demand which has been caused by under production. As a result, traders are importing to fill the gap,” explained Nkombezi, adding that imports are not likely to affect the local market.
“We are also sure that these tangerines are coming in illegally because looking at the amount, it cannot be possible to smuggle.”
While farmers are crying foul, traders are cashing in on tangerines.
A trader in Limbe, Joel Sausten, said he imports the tangerines cheaply in Mozambique to sell them on wholesale to vendors in Limbe, Blantyre. He said they sell like hot cakes.
“I am importing because locally-grown tangerines are scarce. For me to stay in business, I have to look at alternatives way of getting the tangerines, which is why I and other traders are importing these tangerines from Mozambique.
“We are really doing good business because unlike our local tangerines, these are sweet and take time before they go bad,” he said.
Despite the figures not recorded because the tangerines are imported informally, economists are worried that such imports are likely to widen the trade deficit between Malawi and Mozambique.
Available statistics from the National Statistical Office (NSO) indicate that during the third quarter of 2016, Malawi imports from Mozambique increased to K5.2 billion from K828 million recorded in the previous quarter.
Experts also condemn such imports as they have the potential to affect the pricing of locally-produced tangerines, and in the process affect farmers’ livelihoods.
Most of traders in Mwanza and Neno earn their living through selling of tangerines. n