A new study by the Agriculture Policy Research Africa (Apra) has exposed how unscrupulous traders use tampered weighing scales to buy grain from farmers.
The study done by Stevier Kaiyatsa and Mphatso Susuwele has also exposed how the same unscrupulous traders use well calibrated weighing scales to re-sell the same produce to people, making huge profits.
It also questions how government institutions such as the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) are failing to help farmers, who in these shoddy deals lose at least K750 per 50 kilogramme (kg) bag of maize.
Some of the small-scale traders that do not have access to weighing scales, according to the study, use unstandardised equipment such as plastic cups and plates and five or 20-litre plastic buckets, which is common across the food markets.
Reads the report in part: “About 2.5 standard (that is, untampered) 20-litre plastic buckets make up a bag of grain weighing 50 kg. At that time, we observed that the price of grain per 20-litre plastic bucket was K2 500 (about $3.30).
“When the trader uses unstandardised equipment, the farmer earns K6250 (about $8.24) per bag of grain weighing 50 kg. Thus, the farmer loses about K750 ($0.99) for each bag of grain weighing 50 kg sold. The losses may increase where the trader uses tampered unstandardised equipment.”
The study further says smallholder farmers that do not produce market surpluses also sell some of their produce as cash needs arise.
“If the smallholder farmer comes with the bag of grain weighing 50 kg or more to sell, the trader would buy at the price recorded on their charts. Similarly, if the smallholder farmer comes with a bag of grain weighing less than 50 kg for sale a trader would buy at the price below the prices recorded on their charts,” reads the study.
The report further said government needs to strengthen institutions that support the sector such as MBS to carry out their mandates effectively and efficiently.
It reads: “One way to strengthen MBS to protect smallholder farmers from unscrupulous small-scale traders is to establish its representation in district councils, where an officer would be responsible for carrying out the inspection and verification exercises of weighing and measuring instruments that traders use in grainmarketing at such a lower level.”
MBS director general Symon Mandala was not immediately available for comment.
But the organisation has been carrying out inspections to confiscate tampered equipment.