Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa, with Ghana ranked second.
Malawi is nowhere on the list, but some farmers in Karonga District seem determined to rewrite history. They feel it is time government recognised, promoted and marketed the crop to take advantage of its rising prices on the world market.
The district has favourable conditions for cocoa and the growers are convinced that the crop can jolt up the national economy if promoted.
Due to lack of a local market, they smuggle their produce to the neighbouring Tanzania where demand is high, supply is low but prices are suppressed.
Despite the challenge, cocoa farming in Karonga is gaining ground. Nearly 100 farmers in Karonga produce the crop.
Apheston Mwalupani, from Traditional Authority (T/A) Mwakaboko, says the crop is selling like hot cakes.
The man has been growing cocoa since 2000 and says there is potential to turn the crop into serious agricultural business although it needs a little patience.
“The trees take up to four years to start bearing fruit,” he says. “Some people feel this is a very long period, but the investment is rewarding to even their grandchildren. No crop can match cocoa. I ask farmers to embrace this gold.”
Mwalupani quit cassava farming to embark on cocoa business. Today, he owns a plot with 70 trees where he makes at least K20 000 a month.
“I have bought two cows and bicycles. Besides, I pay school fees for my children,” he says.
Apart from cocoa, Mwalupani also praises palm trees as “another unexploited cash crop which needs to be promoted”. Some villagers extract cooking oil from the palm both for household use and for sale.
“I make 20 litres per month, which gives me about K15, 000,” he says.
However, knowledge of pest and disease control among farmers of the two crops remains low.
The locals say homemade palm oil is more affordable than sunflower oil manufactured in factories across the country.
“One does not need to dig deep into their pocket to buy cooking oil. When the palms are ready, they just need to hire young men to climb the trees and harvest,” says Queen Ngosi.
No local market
However, cocoa farmers bemoan lack of local market for cocoa.
In Tanzania, a kilogramme of cocoa beans was selling at K1 300. Now, the same quantity fetches as low as K600.
“Tanzanians have taken advantage of the monopoly to dupe farmers. They offer low prices at a time cocoa prices are going up on the world market. The profit margin has dropped. It would be good if sold locally,” Mwalupani says.
A Community Savings and Investment Promotion (Comsip) group, Tuye Pampene Cluster, promotes cocoa farming in Karonga North.
According to secretary Silvester Simwiba, the cluster aspires to own a factory with big machines to process cocoa into chocolate, ice cream, biscuits and cocoa powder, among other products.
“The farmers can make more profit if the cocoa is processed and sold locally. Cocoa knows no season. It has the potential to bring profits all-year-round,” he says.
The group started in July, 2018. According to Simwiba, it has saved about K1.7 million, mostly from sales of cocoa beans.
Karonga Agricultural Development Division (Kradd) crops officer Enock Mzembe says they are aware of the emerging cocoa and palm oil business.
“We are aware that cocoa and palm oil crops are grown in Karonga north but currently we do not have special programme targeting such farmers. However, when there is any issue requiring special attention, we respond as such,” adds Mzembe.