Rice growers in Karonga District have expressed hope of turning their fortunes with Kilombero rice following interest from South Africa where the product is said to be on high demand.
While the export is expected to first start with Wovwe Irrigation Scheme, more schemes in the district are also expected to benefit from the export of the crop as they will be linked to Nthola-Illola Irrigation Scheme, a mega farm specifically for the export market.
Speaking in an interview on Friday, Wovwe Water Users Association president Raymond Msiska said through Wovwe Rice Scheme, they are expected to start exporting 20 tonnes of Kilombero rice to South Africa.
He said: “We are producing Kilombero rice which is on high demand. We have a good market in South Africa which needs our product. But with the challenge of headworks, we are afraid that we may not produce as much.
“In the summer, we produce 426 metric tonnes [MT] while in the winter, we produce 436MT, and we normally sell at K700 per kilogramme to local traders and this season, we sold 219 metric tonnes to local buyers.”
Msiska said they also plan to venture into seed multiplication for Kilombero to enhance production and meet the required export demand.
He said they have dedicated 365 hectares for rice cultivation.
“If we cultivate all the land, we will be able to produce 526 MT of Kilombero. At the moment, we are still waiting for the export certificate. We got the deal through the Ministry of Trade and Industry,” said Msiska.
Karonga District chief irrigation officer John Bvutula said the district has about 8 000 hectares where rice can be grown, but at the moment, 2 500 hectares is being used.
He said: “In all the schemes in Karonga, we have cooperatives that are doing marketing. Sometimes farmers think it is taking too long to get money and end up selling to vendors instead of selling in bulk through cooperatives.
“You have heard of the mega farms and here in Karonga, we have the Nthola-Illola Scheme. So, the rest of the scheme in the district will be incorporated as out-growers for that scheme where their products will be exported. There is a big agro-processing plant being constructed.”
Meanwhile, the Malawi Government through the Programme for Rural Irrigation Development (Pride) has given a contract worth K820 million to Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development (Fisd) to rehabilitate five schemes, namely Ukanga, Mphinga, Wovwe, Hara and Chonanga in Karonga.
Fisd chief executive officer Raymond Mwenitete assured of quality work, saying they will ensure that the project is completed within one year.
He said: “It is a daunting task. We know we are approaching the rainy season and we have to catch up with time.
“We have already partially mobilised. We are a seasoned contractor on irrigation and we have done a lot of work. We have vast experience and have also increased workforce to do this work on time.”