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Agriculture
Malawi advised to tread carefully away from tobacco
April 19, 2022 / Bester Kayaye

As the country navigates away from overreliance on tobacco as its main forex earner, the Foundation for Smoke Free World (FSFW) has cautioned stakeholders in the local tobacco production value chain to tread carefully so as not to overlook key components essential for Malawi’s economic growth.

The warning has been made in FSFW’s report, which analyses Malawi’s tobacco production trends and other critical factors related to the leaf’s value chain.

In the report, FSFW observes that global tobacco production has, in recent years, undergone significant changes with tobacco production functions moving from high-income countries to low- and middle income countries.

The effects of such shifts has been very pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa in countries like Malawi, arguably the most tobacco dependent economy in the world.

FSFW notes that as interest to diversify in order to minimize effects of tobacco production, there is need to understand the macroeconomic, policy, and political landscapes in a country because the risks in these spheres can hinder the adoption of even the most technically efficient, economically sound, and farmer-friendly alternatives for diversification.

 “A closer look at the tobacco value chain within Malawi reveals that smallholder tobacco farmers are often the most disadvantaged and vulnerable link in the chain, with tobacco production often coming at their expense, literally and figuratively,” it says pointing out that the day-to-day work and exposures associated with tobacco farming are harmful to the health of those who carry it out as well as to the surrounding environment.

“Such observations underscore the extent to which the existing value chain harms the economic well-being, health, and environment of smallholder tobacco farmers and helps make the case for shifting away from tobacco dependence, particularly as the global demand for tobacco declines,” the report further notes

In Malawi, tobacco pricing, which has recently hit new lows, is unpredictable and has forced government to consider reducing the country’s overreliance on tobacco, as evidenced by its new focus on diversification and sustainable agricultural transformation outlined in its key policy frameworks, including the Malawi Vision 2063 and other initiatives

FSFW suggests the need for sustainable, and investment-friendly crops, livestock, and other sources of livelihoods.

“Ultimately, the success of these livelihoods options will depend on addressing the many structural obstacles currently facing the economy in general and the agricultural sector, including limited access to inputs, barriers to reliable financing and sustainable investments, deficits in infrastructure, creation of markets for alternative high-value crops and gaps in knowledge, policy, and institutional capacity.”

Although tobacco continues to be a major crop and accounts for about 12% to 15% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the number of tobacco farms have decreased from nearly 400 thousand to a little under 178,000 in 2019 and tobacco’s contribution to the total value of crop production has also decreased from 39% in 2004 to 18% in 2019

Agriculture
Soaring fertiliser prices, a blessing in disguise for Malawi
April 19, 2022 / Bester Kayaye

An environmental expert has described the increased soaring of fertilizer prices as a blessing in disguise for Malawi.

Godfrey Mfiti says farming without chemical fertilisers will provide the country with better, efficient and effective alternatives methods that will end up nourishing the country’s farming land which have been degraded by the fertilisers.

His comments were made following the continued skyrocketing of chemical fertilizer prices in the country. The cost of fertilises in the country have jumped from MK38,000 last year, to around MK45,000 and MK50,000 this year.

According to authorities the price build-up is just knock-on effect for Malawi following the rise in global fertilizer prices due to a combination of strong demand and high input costs. The poor 2020 maize and soybean harvest in South America has also contributed to the global fertiliser price increase as major growers reacted by increasing acreage for farming these commodities, a development which also triggered an increase the demand and use of fertilizers.

On other hand, apart from the depreciation of the Malawi currency, the Kwacha, refinery curtailments due to COVID-19 restrictions and high energy prices limited supply of raw materials used in fertilizer production, especially sulphur and ammonia has also exacerbated price hikes.

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has since reported that in Kwacha terms, global fertilizer prices have increased by 98 percent, and to make matters worse, bulk shipping rates have more than doubled in the 12 months ending July 2021, which has further increased the landed cost of fertilizer in Malawi.

But speaking to Mining and Trade Review Publication, Mfiti hinted that Malawi needs to contemplate on investing more on production and use of organic fertilizer with a sole aim of increasing sustainable crop production, enhancing long-term soil fertility for better farmer livelihood, as well as alleviating rural poverty and reduce foreign exchange drain on chemical fertilizer imports.

Mfiti said; “There is an opportunity in the soaring chemical fertilizer prices, we can call it a blessing in disguise as it paves way for local manufactures of organic fertilizer to seize this moment by intensifying their operations on the much demanded fertilizer. There are different kinds of organic fertilizers that can be adopted and there is need for local citizens to be trained on how to make these in order to minimize intense imports of fertilizer.

“And when we think of fertilizers, we are talking about feeding the soil, unfortunately, continued use of chemical fertilizers destroys soil structure. Therefore there is a need to teach our local farmers on the use of organic fertilizers such as composite manure which has proved to be environmental friends as well as effective.”

Mfiti further asked government to review the Affordable Input Programme (AIP) if it is still relevant and viable considering the numerous setbacks registered in implementing the program.

“AIP is no longer viable for government to continue implementing it, because if you look closely it only encompasses on maize alone which is a low value crop since it is only meant for consumption,” he said.

Agriculture
Resuscitation of local wheat production can mitigate against cost of importation
March 29, 2022 / Bester Kayaye

Agricultural experts have advised government to consider reintroducing wheat production in an effort to mitigate against the economic impact of importing the cereal which has seen a drastic rise in the prices of bread and other confectionaries cross the country.

Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Moses Maliro, says the consumer price index for local bread continues to widen due to forex scarcity and the on-going Ukraine and Russia war, which are major global wheat exporters.

Wheat is a cereal crop consumed by over 2.5 billion people globally. The current demand for wheat in Malawi is estimated to be 200,000 tonnes per year with a projected growth in consumption of 3%–6% annually.

Bread prices in Malawi have doubled in the past few weeks to K1, 000.00 with the 50 kilogram bag of bread flour now selling at K48,000.00 from K36,000.00.

According to Prof. Maliro, the current wheat supply and demand gap is wide with 99% of the wheat being imported due to low domestic production. The imported cereal is spread throughout the value chain from the importers to millers, bakeries, biscuit manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.

“45% of milled flour is utilised by commercial bakeries, 46% is distributed to rural and urban outlets and biscuit manufacturers utilise 9%,” he says

Maliro notes that lack of stable markets and a national wheat development strategy are some constraints suffocating wheat production in the country.

“Production constraints include the lack of a national wheat development strategy, lack of stable markets, unavailability of improved varieties, low input use and limited knowledge in the management of wheat crop,” he says adding that currency devaluation and limited forex reserves further affect the annual import volumes and prices of wheat flour on the domestic market.

The professor suggests that domestic production and broad value chain opportunities could be increased through policy support, including research for development, expansion of production into non-traditional wheat growing areas, investing in irrigation and developing market systems.

Meanwhile, LUANAR, in partnership with University of Nottingham, UK, are supervising a local PhD student who is magnifying the local wheat production in a quest of developing ideal wheat varieties suitable for local malnutrition population.

Statistics indicates that wheat imports are projected to rise to 63 MT by 2028. Although total production increased from 19.6 MT in 2008 to 29.2 MT in 2019, and the total area under wheat increased from 8.5 to 10.2 million hectares, domestic supply is still much lower than demand.

A 2018 USDA report on global wheat imports shows that the sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region has been a major driver of rising global wheat trade over the last decade. The year-over-year growth in wheat imports for SSA is greater than any region across the globe. Current annual production in SSA is approximately 7 MT which accounts for only 28% of total annual demand.

Agricultural systems of Malawi are dominated by maize and the wheat value chain is driven almost entirely by imports, which currently represent greater than 99% of demand.

Agriculture
Association makes headway in cassava processing
February 28, 2022 / Bester Kayaye

With Malawi seeking to diversify from its overdependence on tobacco as the major economic crop, cassava has come into the limelight as Salima based National Cassava Processors Association (NCPA) has scaled up production of cassava-based industrial and energy products targeting both the local and international markets.


Through its processing factory, NCPA, which was established in 2011, produces a wide range of products including High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF), Sauce, fire briquettes, and animal feeds, among others, from the tuber.


NCPA’s Marketing Representative Geoffrey Chikaonda said in an interview that the association is comprised of about 1,500 voluntary membership of local farmers and processors across the country.


Chikaonda said: “NCPA was established with support from Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (CAVA), which is coordinated by the Chemistry Department at Chancellor College and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).”


“The Association is owned and controlled by its members, cassava processors, who join on a voluntary basis with the objective of increasing income through the provision of value-adding services, and identifying and facilitating access to domestic and foreign markets for processed cassava products.”


NCPA also promotes structural changes at both a macro and micro level to create opportunities for processors to the wider benefit of Malawi’s cassava farmers.

The Association has managed to institutionalize its operations, establish internal operational structures including the executive, and facilitate the development of a draft strategic plan to guide its operations.

Chikaonda said: “This far, the Association also facilitated capacity building services to members with support from C:AVA, Food and Agriculture Association (FAO) and German Technical Cooperation (GIZ), which helped 17 processors to acquire machinery and 13 to initiate the process of procuring machinery.”

“We also coordinated networking and collaboration initiatives with stakeholders for provision of inputs such as clean cassava planting materials to farmers, and initiated the marketing of HQCF to MALDECO Fisheries.”

Chikaonda said NCPA envisions to be one of the major contributors to the Malawi economy through cassava value addition and processing.

NCPA conducted a market assessment which forecast potential growth in the medium and long term for its HQCF despite the current market for the product being narrow in the country.

The assessment estimated that the market could attain a six-fold increase from 40 MTs to 252 MTs of HQCF sold annually within the next few years.

“It was also found that there is significant unused processing capacity, so scaling up to meet this demand should be achievable. Currently, there are approximately 61 MTs of HQCF being produced annually, against a capacity of 869 MTs (representing a capacity utilization of 7%). This means that some NCPA processors, if properly supported, could increase production to meet the demand,” he said.

Chikaonda, however, lamented inadequate capital to capacitate processors to maintain and purchase the much needed machinery.

He said the association, therefore, intends to coordinate efforts with development partners, research institutions and supply chain stakeholders to ensure that members have access to affordable and up-to-date inputs and machinery.

“It is important for processors to have affordable and functioning inputs and technology in order to meet market demand and compete with international enterprises, therefore NCPA will provide support throughout the input purchasing process including communication, negotiations and potentially funding.

Agriculture
FISD embarks on irrigation water supply initiative
February 25, 2022 / Bester Kayaye

Local firm, the Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development (FISD), says is implementing a new business model dubbed “Irrigation water supply initiative” which will involve selling of water for irrigation to farmers through advanced irrigation infrastructure.


FISD Marketing and Communications Manager Wezzie Benson Chiumia told Mining and Trade Review that FISD rolled up the programme to complement government’s efforts in promoting agriculture industrialization through supply of more efficient technologies to spearhead productivity in the sector.


Chiumia observed that there are many irrigation schemes that are farmer managed in Malawi and some are not in operating state due to both minor and major faults hence FISD intends to resuscitate these schemes by investing in already existing and even new ones with solar powered irrigation facilities.

“The initiative is a pilot project being implemented under Kaombe Irrigation Scheme in Nkhotakota district, and it is a business model whereby our company will be providing irrigation infrastructure to farmers using our own resources and we will take control over the management of these structures,” he said.

Chiumia said: “Tentatively the project seeks to supply farmers with water for their irrigation needs at an affordable fee, thus K12,500 per 0.1 hectare per season.”

“We came up with this price upon a proper gloss margin analysis with types of crops farmers tend to cultivate, and has been structured to carry away burdens by the farmers of having to monitor irrigation operations as we will be conducting those for them.”

The pilot project has received partial financing from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through the Malawi Innovation Challenge Fund (MICF)
In terms of project’s benchmarks, Chiumia disclosed that the company has managed to rehabilitate Kaombe Irrigation Scheme including installation of solar powered irrigation systems.

He said: “Specifically, we have managed to drill high yielding boreholes, installation of pumps and associated structures, and the rehabilitation of canals,”

“We mobilize farmers to work in the developed schemes through close collaboration with Water Users Association (WUA); as at first farmers are required to register with WUA before they are referred to a FISD technician responsible for the distribution of the water to paid-up farmers.”

FISD has also recently introduced floating irrigation pumps comprising of 24v DC floating pump and 275w solar module in its effort of promoting mechanization of agriculture practices by smallholder farmers.

Chiumia explained: “We have pumps for smallholder farmers which are mobile and flexible enough to ease mobility of farmers when commuting to and from their farmland, and they are effective as they have 275W solar module capacitating water flow of up to 11,500 litres per hour.”

“Times have changed with continued climate change so it is high time the country adopted irrigation farming on large scale to triple our agriculture earnings.”

The company has also a financing arm under FISD Finance for Agricultural Development which is registered with Reserve Bank of Malawi as a Micro Credit Agency providing loans for investments in Irrigated Agriculture.

FISD which started its operations in the country in 1985 is a revenue generating entity of the Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development (FISD); a local NGO that was formed with an aim of spearheading Sustainable development and promoting the livelihood of the rural to complement Malawi Government’s efforts for the same.

FISD Ltd specializes in design and implementation of innovative irrigation, water supply engineering works, clean energy agribusiness and financing.

Agriculture
Food report records adequate reserves, stable market prices
January 15, 2022 / Bester Kayaye

Malawi’s Food Balance Sheet (FBS) indicates that the country has enough food reserves for consumption and storage to last until the next harvest season.
Minister of Agriculture, Robin Lowe, has told the media that according to the FBS, the country’s food stocks, which stood at 1,693,997 as of December 2021, was enough to cover the 861 868 metric tonnes maize requirement for the 3 months (January to March 2022)
He explained that the total domestic surplus of 915 998 metric tonnes included stock under government custody as well as that being held by different stakeholders such as farmers and private traders.
“Out of the estimated surplus, the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) and ADMARC Limited had by December 2021 been holding about 265,253 metric tonnes,” he said.
Lowe parried away suggestions from other quarters that the country faces a food crisis saying that Malawi remains stable in terms of maize availability and market prices.
“Market prices have remained stable during the past three months and now as the country passes through the lean period,” he observed explaining that the decline in the current maize national average price to MK152.99 per kilogram for the month of December 2021 from MK200 per kilogram in December 2020, shows that the prices are stable despite an increase in the demand for maize.
Malawi’s maize prices have lately stabilized because of the Affordable Input Programme which subsidises cost of farm inputs like fertilisers.
Maize accounts for around two-thirds of all calories consumed in Malawi, which explains it high uptake under the subsidy programmes
Meanwhile, an IFPRI Monthly Maize Market Report for December shows a 4 percent increase in retail prices of maize in some areas since November 2021. The report explains that such an increase is a result of the commencement of the lean season when prices receive pressure from declining maize stocks.
But Lowe, while acknowledging that some areas across the country will experience food deficits, he said government was on high alert to implement necessary interventions
The districts include Chikwawa, Nsanje, Mangochi, Zomba, Lilongwe, Nkhotakota, Karonga and Nkhata Bay
The minister said government remained committed to responding to the food insecure areas through ensuring that affordable maize is distributed through relief programmes as well as through ADMARC.
Lowe further disclosed that government had already released about 17,000 metric tons of maize for distribution to the affected households as humanitarian food aid to compliment the stocks available at ADMARC depots.

Agriculture
Gvt talks tough against fraudulent AIP agro-dealers
January 15, 2022 / Bester Kayaye

Government has woken up to the increased proliferation of counterfeit and substandard fertilisers, which has robed poor farming families substantial investments intended for this years’ farming season.
Unscrupulous agrodealers are reported to have flooded the local agro-input retail market. especially in the central and southern regions of the country, with maliciously adulterated and counterfeit fertilisers
Reacting, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Erica Maganga, has warned government-accredited suppliers of fertilisers under the Affordable Input Programme (AIP) against duping farmers saying perpetrators will face the law.
“Some unscrupulous suppliers are selling AIP beneficiaries fertilizer mixed with sand or sand packed in bags. The malpractices constitute crimes within this country’s laws,” she said in a statement that went on to stress that the Malawi Police Service had already made some arrests and that government would be deregistering and banning suppliers involved in the malpractices.
She said the Ministry in collaboration with the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) have intensified tests to ascertain the quality of fertilizers being sold through AIP.
Maganga has also requested the general public, farmers and stakeholders to be vigilant and immediately report to the Ministry or nearest police when the authenticity of any AIP fertilizer is under question.
A toll free number- 3013, has been issued for both Airtel and TNM subscribers to use in reporting any suspicious activity in the process of distributing AIP.
Apart from selling counterfeit fertilizers, the absence of some private fertilizer suppliers on the market is also hampering progress of the AIP as quasi government ADMARC and SFFRFM remain the only reliable suppliers. The situation has resulted in long queues at available selling points.
Famers are further warned to desist from selling away their National ID cards, as this deprives them the opportunity to benefit from the AIP.
The current AIP was launched on October 16, 2021, by the State President, Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera. It is expected to improve household and national food security and will directly benefit 3.7 million farmers.

Agriculture
Ag-Tech and Mechanisation
November 25, 2021 / Bester Kayaye

Historically commercial agriculture has been a male dominated sector. In recent years the advancements in mechanisation and agricultural technologies have levelled the “playing field” and opened the doorway to gender equality within the sector. Farming and Engineering Services Limited Malawi (FES) who have been operating in this space since 1967 and are one of the most progressive and transformative players in the agricultural contracting and ag tech sector have demonstrated this through their adoption of female operators to man their equipment.

Some of the highly specialised contracting operations conducted by the dedicate women of FES include drone aerial survey, land forming and drone chemical crop protection. More than half of the pilots employed by FES to operate their fleet of DJI Agras T16/20/30 drones, which were developed at a cost of over R400-million, are young local females. Clayton Prowse, the Operations Manager at the FES Nchalo operation in Chikwawa, stated that “the female pilots operate in a less reckless manner and are less inclined to take unnecessary risks. This results in reduced downtime and improves mechanical availability of the equipment”. These female drone pilots are also responsible for drone based RTK topographical surveys using a fleet of DJI Phantom 4 RTKs and Matrice drones. The surveys are used as an input to the OptiSurface and MultiPlane software packages used to redesign fields for optimal surface water management. These designs are then uploaded to RTK guidance systems within the Challenger 865C/E tractors. These tractors pull 18 cubic meter dual land-forming scrapers to reshape the field surface for effective water management. This operation is coincidentally also predominantly performed by one of their most trusted and female operators, Mary Thalo. Mary has been with FES since 2012 and is a multiskilled operator, who aside from the land-forming, is also responsible for operating a tile-plough to install sub-surface drainage pipes and doubles as an operator on some of the larger yellow-plant equipment.

Commercial agricultural operations are about more than just operating equipment, there are also many supporting functions within the sector. AgriLab, a part of the FES group, is an ISO 17025 certified soil, water and leaf analysis laboratory. AgriLab endeavours to uplift local and international farmers by helping them increase the productivity of their soils through soil and leaf analysis followed up by fertilizer recommendations. Within the lab several of the lead scientists are also female. Other positions such as managers, mechanics, auto electrician and back-office staff, which have traditionally been filled by male employees, are now increasingly being filled by female employees. Justin Domleo, FES Group Head of Contracting, attributes this to “the increased number of female graduates passing through academic institutions and training academies operating in the sector, such as the African Drone and Data Academy in Malawi”. 

This is great news for employers in the sector as there is now a greater number of suitably qualified candidates from which to recruit and gender is not considered to be a selection criterion. In a sector where female participation has in the past been skewed toward the unskilled positions such as manual weeding, the new norm is a more naturally balanced and fair environment. 

Operating in a country where the UN gender inequality index ranks 173 of 189, FES is proud to support women in agriculture and promote the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Agriculture
Farmers urged to rear hybrid livestock breeds
November 25, 2021 / Admin

There is a need for farmers in the country to adopt the rearing of hybrid breeds of livestock which are highly productive in order to substantially benefit from their activities, this is the view of Nyasha Mbenje, Director for Ntheu-based Well-done Livestock Suppliers (WLS).


Mbenje, whose organization breeds and sells highly productive Boer goats to farmers told Agri Business Review, that rearing of hybrid livestock can hugely benefit farmers through increased income from meat and milk sales as well as assist in boosting the national forex reserve through export of animal products.


She, therefore, advised Veterinary and Livestock Development Department (VLDD) in the Ministry of Agriculture to make sure that hybrid breeds of livestock are made available and accessible to farmers across the country.

Mbenje, however, applauded government for showing interest in encouraging farmers to venture into serious animal production through providing them with Boer goats which, she said, would help them realise their economic dreams besides helping the country meet the population’s demand for animal protein.

“I must appreciate government’s gesture of ensuring that farmers start keeping hybrid breeds of goats. Currently, government is providing rural farmers with Boer goats, the activity that would help them realise their economic dreams. In this program, some farmers are given male and female goats for breeding and their offsprings are passed on to other farmers,” she said.

Mbenje, however, said that there is more that government should do to improve local livestock development sector. She suggested training and deployment of more veterinary experts to the rural areas where they should be responsible for providing veterinary services to farmers.


Meanwhile, some local livestock development experts have complained over the decline of the livestock subsector in the country, which they have attributed to government’s failure to encourage farmers to take livestock production seriously.


Malawi Milk Producers Association (MMPA) Director Herbert Chagona said there is an urgent need for the country to address numerous challenges affecting animal production sector such as low productivity due to the rearing of local breeds. He said farmers should be encouraged to keep hybrid livestock which are fast growing and highly productive.


He disclosed that as one way of ensuring that MMPA members benefit from their works, the organization imports and distributes hybrid cattle and goats that produce more milk, a scheme which only benefits their member associations.


“As milk producers association we encourage our members to keep hybrid types of livestock because they produce more yields. To ensure that our dream is realized, we import hybrid goats and cattle which are distributed to our members,” said Chagona.


Lilongwe Agricultural Development Division (ADD) programs officer Dr James Nkhoma admitted that the local livestock subsector has declined over the past years.


But while admitting that privatization of some vetenary services has affected the sector, Nkhoma quickly explained that there are a number of activities being done to promote livestock development which include ensuring availability and accessibility of hybrid livestock breeds to farmers.


“As Lilongwe ADD, we admit that there is retrogression in the livestock subsector of Agriculture. Privatisation of some veterinary services is among factors contributing to the decline. However, there are some remarkable initiatives happening that include the importation and distribution of hybrid livestock to farmers, ” he explained.

While Sparks Soza, an official at Kasungu ADD said the decline of the livestock subsector is not as a result of government’s laxity to promote the subsector but farmers’ lack of interest to embrace livestock farming as a result of unavailability of grazing land, among other reasons.

“Its indeed true that the local livestock production industry is collapsing. But there are a number of factors contributing to that including lack of grazing land,” he said.

Erica Maganga, Ministry of Agriculture Principal Secretary recently said government is determined to ensure that the local livestock production sector reclaims its lost glory.

“The farmers have been told that, through rearing high yielding hybrid breeds of livestock they can hugely benefit from their works,” she said.

Government through the ministry of Agriculture has repeatedly advised farmers to adopt the keeping of hybrid livestock which are quick maturing and highly productive.

The livestock subsector in Malawi is relatively small and undeveloped. It contributes only about seven percent to agricultural GDP and just 12 percent to the total value of agricultural production.

Over 50 percent of the over 2-million smallholder families are involved in livestock production.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, only 10 percent of total household expenditure in Malawi is on livestock products which account for about 1.3 percent of total dietary protein intake.

Current production and consumption levels are woefully insufficient by international standards, and even below sub–Saharan levels.

Animal populations are considerably low and those for cattle have been decreasing since 1987. In view of the anticipated increase in population to about 18 million from 12 million in 2010, Malawi will face massive deficits in the supply of animal protein if food production, including livestock, does not grow faster.

Unless production increases, the country will have to continue to import substantial amounts of livestock products, which could be a drain on foreign reserves.