As the economy continues to tank, Malawi Mangoes (MM), the first large-scale commercial fruit farming and processing enterprise based in Salima, has fired 192 employees because of what it calls tough operating environment.
The country’s economy has been sailing in troubled waters characterised by high interest and inflation rates and a volatile exchange rate, which has seen the kwacha depreciating even when tobacco dollars are trickling in.
MM executive chairperson Paul Rosenberg, responding to an e-mailed questionnaire on Sunday, said the company, which grows and processes bananas, pineapples and mangoes, has taken a new strategic direction; hence, making tough decisions, including laying off people.
He said: “So far, five directors, three managers and 184 permanent staff members have had to be laid off for the company to survive and there is a chance that once we turn the corner, a majority of them will have a chance of being reengaged.
“Establishing an international class business in the middle of Africa is challenging and takes time. We should have reached exports of $2 million [about K1.4 billion] a year by now, but we have not even reached a quarter of that in any year.”
Rosenberg said they had to make tough choices to correct things that went wrong or were not working for the company.
“A lot of investment has gone into creating this business from scratch and it cannot just be written off. The future of Malawi Mangoes is, therefore, not in question and broadly supported by shareholders and investors.”
But Rosenberg said what is key is for the company to embrace necessary changes to the management team, farming technologies and product portfolios to get back on track and be an example of what Malawi’s agribusiness can achieve.
The firm is currently evaluating its agriculture production activities and product mix and believes 100 percent banana and mango puree production is unsustainable.
MM is not the only company to have laid off employees. The banking sector that includes commercial banks such as Opportunity Bank of Malawi (OBM), Indebank, which was bought by Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE)-listed National Bank of Malawi and Malawi Savings Bank (MSB), which was acquired by FDH Financial Holdings Limited, have also fired some employees.
Wafwile Musukwa, deputy labour commissioner in the Ministry of Labour, Youth and Manpower Development yesterday admitted having seen an application letter from MM to fire people due to economic challenges which are hindering their operations.
“We understand that is a business decision they have made. As government, there is nothing we can do apart from offering advice if there are alternative jobs within the company,” he said.
Musukwa said government will, however, ensure that the fired employees receive their retrenchment packages.
Established in 2009, MM is a value based agro-processing business working with local communities in Salima to grow and process fruit using modern food processing machines.
The land MM is currently managing is under a land tenure arrangement with the Malawi Government, through the Green Belt Initiative and the local community.
The firm exports its puree to reputable companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Ceres, among others.