Maputo — Maize producers in Milange district, in the central Mozambican province of Zambezia, are being swindled by traders from neighbouring Malawi, who offer rock bottom prices for their grain, reports Friday's issue of the independent daily "O Pais".
Milange is on the Malawian border and, since Mozambican businesses do not bother to send trucks to buy the maize, the local farmers have no option but to sell to Malawians, who pay in their own currency, the kwacha.
The paper's sources said the Malawians pay 50 kwachas per kilo of maize. At current exchange rates this is 4.2 meticais, or seven US cents. It is an extremely low price, and the farmers complain that it does not compensate for their effort in growing the crop.
"O Pais" noted large trucks laden with maize leaving Milange headed for Malawi, where the maize is processed. The maize flour is then driven back into Mozambique and sold, at a healthy profit for the Malawian traders and millers.
Faced with this situation, officials from the Ministry of Industry and Trade held a meeting with the Milange farmers to work out strategies to improve the price. Several of the farmers suggested that the Mozambique Grain Institute (ICM), which is supposed to act as buyer of last resort to absorb unsold crop surpluses, should buy their maize at a reasonable price.
Manifa Soares, head of Vulalo locality, 30 kilometres from Milange town, said the minimum price for maize should be ten meticais a kilo. He said the farmers had invested heavily in producing maize, and other crops, including pigeon peas (also sold in Malawi), sesame and soya. But with the low prices offered by the Malawians, the farmers "are just becoming poorer".
"We want to buy clothes for our children", said Soares. "We want to buy medicine in the event that our children fall ill, but how can we buy them, when these prices are imposed on us? We are appealing to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and particularly to the ICM, to help us overcome this sad reality".
"How can the Malawians come to our country and stipulate whatever price they like when we have a government which could coordinate the situation to support the producers?", asked Horacio Figueiredo, an adviser to some Zambezia peasant associations. He warned that the current situation might lead peasant to stop growing maize and switch to other crops.
The Zambezia provincial director of industry and trade, Momad Juizo, sad the government does not interfere with the prices set by producers and buyers. But he suggested vaguely that through "joint efforts" a platform could be fund to change the situation.
He wanted the farmers to organise themselves so that they can speak to the buyers with one voice, making it more difficult for the Malawians to impose a price of their own choosing. A second meeting will be held in the near future to follow up the proposal to form more associations.