Mwansambo Trading Centre in Nkhotakota is a thriving business zone for groundnuts. But beneath the façade of joy and thrill among farmers during the marketing season lies an exploitative business practice that has left many down on their knees. Anastazio Mpumulo of the Malawi News Agency (Mana) explores the issue.
It is Wednesday, a market day at Mwansambo Trading Centre in Nkhotakota. Excitement has gripped commercial groundnuts farmers in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mwansambo in the district.
This is a big groundnuts growing area and currently farmers are reaping the rewards of their toil by selling the crop at a profit.
During harvest time, business-people from different areas flock to the trading centre to buy the crop. For people of the area, groundnuts is a precious commodity that is making a huge difference to their livelihoods.
But Lifasiyo Luka, a commercial groundnuts farmer in the area, is not among those on cloud nine.
“During the growing season, I encountered a serious problem that forced me to sell my groundnuts before they matured. I took money from some people on the promise that I would give them the groundnuts when the crop is ready.
“The problem is that I sold the groundnuts at prices well below the prevailing market rates. Somebody lent me K3 000 (US$9) and we agreed that I would give him three pails of groundnuts, meaning K1 000 (US$3) per pail, yet currently the pail is going at K2 500 (US$8),” lamented Luka.
He said the practice is widespread in the area because some people take advantage of farmers’ poverty by dangling money to those that are desperate for money.
“These deals are struck in January, February and March when many people are experiencing food shortages. As a result, farmers tend to be limited in their thinking by accepting these unfair conditions as a way of dealing with the problems,” said Luka.
Davis Kadammanja, who is also Village Head Chilanje, is another groundnuts farmer in the area who bears witness to the vicious cycle the practice creates for farmers.
“I am involved in groundnuts seed multiplication spearheaded by Concern Worldwide to contribute to high production of groundnuts through use of certified seeds.
“I am knowledgeable about these people who capitalise on the hunger and poverty of the farmers to exploit them economically through this unfair business practice which is very pervasive here,” said Kadammanja.
He said the problem is difficult to uproot in the area even after officers from Mwansambo Police Unit sensitised farmers about the danger of the practice.
Officer in-charge for the police unit Raphael Mbisa said although police have been warning farmers against selling their crops through this exploitive system, the situation is getting worse.
“This is evidenced by escalating cases of disagreements we handle arising from the practice. I don’t have the exact number of cases that we handle per year, but the fact is that it is a big problem here,” said Mbisa.
He said because people do not involve police when striking the deals, officers only come into the picture to deal with conflicts stemming from the misunderstandings.
T/A Mwansambo said although the practice is immoral and unacceptable, it is a big problem in the area.
“It is clearly stipulated in the minutes of Mwansambo Area Development Committee (ADC) that such business practices are not allowed in this area.
“That is why when disagreements arise, the aggrieved parties don’t want to approach traditional leaders to assist in resolving the problems through primary justice.
“We urge government to help us deal with the problem so that farmers make profits from their agri-business,” he said.
Mwansambo said the crop is a high value commodity that could change the face of the area if its economic potential is fully exploited.
“The crop is contributing to the transformation of the people’s livelihoods and the economic status of this area. Almost every household in my area is involved in this agri-business,” he said.
The chief asked government to set up an oil extraction plant in the area to tap into the groundnuts potential.
Luka, like many other farmers in the area who have fallen prey to the exploitative trading practice, wants firm government intervention to root out the problem.
“There are many people here who are involved in this unfair business practice,” he said.