Reactions to a Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism announcement of a presidential directive for State produce trader Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) to buy pigeon peas (nandolo) at K230 per kilogramme (kg) have been diverse.
Through a statement dated September 12 2018 signed by the ministry’s Principal Secretary Ken Ndala, President Peter Mutharika urged pigeon peas farmers to sell their produce to Admarc and to avoid dealing with intermediaries or vendors.
For the record, the stated price of K230/kg is K90/kg less than the circulated minimum price of K320/kg initially announced.
That said, no farmer sold their nandolo at K320/kg. With the financially-stressed Admarc not buying the produce when smallholder farmers sought markets, the poor farmers had no option but to dance to the tunes of ‘unscrupulous’ vendors who stormed their areas with unassized weighing scales and bought the legume at as low as K40/kg in some cases.
For four months or so after harvest, the pigeon peas farmers faced exploitation. Nobody seemed to care about their plight. Few lucky ones offloaded their produce at K120/kg.
Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture has described the presidential directive as ill-timed. Nandolo Farmers Association of Malawi-a grouping of pigeon peas farmers-has called for the suspension of the purchases by Admarc.
What is clear from the reactions is that smallholder farmers are short-changed. They are getting a raw deal.
The purported buyer, Admarc, is financially struggling. It recently got a K45 billion bailout from Treasury. It was struggling to buy maize, its mainstay, due to lack of funds. Where has Admarc found the market for the pigeon peas? Where has it sourced the funds to ‘buy’ the nandolo?
In my view, the biggest loser in the whole deal is the smallholder farmer who is helplessly watching the vendors or ‘middlemen’ who bought the crop from them for a song pushing truckloads to Admarc markets.
I smell a conspiracy where ‘big boys’, in the name of the poor farmer in Nyezelera, Phalombe, are engaging in some sort of organised crime to siphon public funds by way of laundering through Admarc. How else can one explain this?
Picture this true story: A peasant farmer sold her nandolo to a vendor at K40/kg only three weeks ago. She sold 26.5 bags each weighing 50 kg at K2 000/bag and earned a paltry K53 000. The vendor, obviously a ‘big boy’, is selling the same to Admarc at K230/kg or K11 500/50kg bag, making a cool K9 500 profit from each bag. If this is not a raw deal (‘theft by tricks’) then what is?
People entrusted with public office should be making decisions that are for the general good of all and sundry, not a few chosen few. Farmers should be motivated and rewarded through competitive prices, based on market forces. n