Smallholder farmer cooperatives struggle to sell maize as ADMARC and NRFA ‘sort administrative issues’

Scores of farmers from cooperatives across the Central Region have been at National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) premises at Kanengo in Lilongwe for at least three weeks now, waiting to deliver maize to the grain storage facility.

The situation has angered the farmers and reportedly made them incur huge losses and waste their time to prepare for the current farming season.

State-owned Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) is currently buying maize from cooperatives at MK150 per kilogramme and is using NFRA premises where they reportedly have efficient facilities and equipment for handling the maize.

In the ADMARC and NFRA arrangement—in which 15, 000 metric tons of maize have been bought, so far, from cooperatives—the farmers are obliged to bring their produce to NFRA where ADMARC employees are placed to buy it, handling it with the “good” NFRA equipment.

But the farmers are not happy with the arrangement, saying it is not benefiting them because the market, which reportedly started a month ago, has been closed twice due to “administrative issues between ADMARC and NFRA.”

One of the farmers, Innocent Phiri, who is Secretary for Chitanthamapiri Cooperative in Mtunthama Extension Planning Area (EPA) in Kasungu District, said they have waited for three weeks now and are not being assisted.

“It is sad. We hire these trucks to bring our produce here. We pay transporters, plus the waiting fees. It means the more we wait here, the more the waiting fees we will be required to pay. So even if they eventually they buy our maize, our profit will be too little, which will affect our business and livelihood,” said Phiri.

Phiri further said the market, whenever open, is operating too slowly, offloading between 25 to 35 trucks only in a day.

“It looks like there is an intention to frustrate farmers. It looks like there are elements within ADMARC whose interest is to buy maize from unscrupulous traders in order to benefit something,” he said.

Mapndera Yolodani, from Nambamba Cooperative in Malomo EPA in Ntchisi District, concurred with Phiri, adding that even if little of the farmers produce is bought, payment delays to come forward.

“For instance, we have 80, 000 bags at our cooperative and this time we are struggling to sell even a quarter of that. Will ADMARC ever buy the rest of our produce? We are yet to receive payment for the first supply we made on 2 November, 2021. If we still do not get paid on time, we will even fail to buy cheap AIP fertilizer and seeds,” said Yolodani.

Nyasa Times understands that there have been protracted talks and engagements involving cooperative members and top management at ADMARC, resulting in the reopening of the market on Thursday which had closed for almost a week, while some cooperatives were already there with their maize waiting to sell.

When contacted to comment on these matters, ADMARC General Manager Rhino Chiphiko and NFRA Acting Chief Executive Officer Brenda Kayombo, acknowledged the challenges the farmers have had at NFRA, saying they are sorting them.

On her part, Kayombo said NFRA and ADMARC had a meeting on Wednesday to finalize documentation and records for the new maize purchase order.

She, however, added that they could not resume receiving the maize on Wednesday because there has been no electricity at NFRA’s Kanengo plant silos till Thursday.

“In addition, the farmers were told to come before the logistical arrangements for the new maize purchase order were completed. So, yes, they had to wait, some even for weeks. Otherwise, as NFRA, we had finished receiving the maize that ADMARC bought earlier,” said Kayombo.

On his part, Chiphiko assured the cooperatives that their produce will be bought, emphasizing that the market would not close.

“ADMARC has so far bought 160, 000 tons against our target of 300, 000 tons,” Said Chiphiko.

“There have been delays because NFRA has been rotating their stock in order create space for ADMARC to store the maize, which will be finalized by Friday. So buying will resume soon.

“We will pay by next week all the cooperatives that already supplied their produce. We are just waiting for a disbursement form our bank, which will be done next week. So the farmers can be assured,” he added.

Meanwhile,  an organization called Market Link and Support—which supports farmers’ Cooperatives in areas of production and capacity building for business management and marketing—has condemned the situation, saying it makes farmers resort to alternative exploitative markets, thereby promoting vending and other informal markets, which affect farmers.

The organisation’s Marketing Coordinator, Leticia Chinkhu, said farmers’ ability to engage and secure profitable markets, is their interest.

“We want farmers to secure competitive markets and the main food market in Malawi is the government, through ADMARC.  So, if farmer cooperatives cannot sell their aggregated maize to government, where will they go with their produce? Farmers must sell to government to increase their marginal returns so that they can now begin to enjoy the benefits of farming.

“ADMARC must buy the maize from the cooperatives. After all, it is the government’s policy to promote cooperatives for in cooperatives farmers can engage and supply in large quantities. So these cooperatives deserve a bigger portion of the government’s market,” Chinkhu said.

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