Leaders of Mikonga cooperative in Mchinji district are hopeful that with their efforts in cooking oil production backed by support from women, they can make a contribution to the local export market and earn forex.
Since the year 2014, 64 women and 47 men in Traditional Authority Dambe’s area in the district, have been working on producing cooking oil in their cooperative called Mikonga.
The cooking oil is made from locally sourced sunflower and the aim is to make it the best product for mass distribution, and eventually exportation.
Mikonga cooperative is one of many local groupings that produce food products and process them with a touch of value addition.
Manager for the cooperative, Mastala Psindula, indicates that with the progress they are making, nutrition benefits among people in their area and surrounding villages are not hard to trace.
“Back in the days we did not have a factory for producing the cooking oil from sunflower, but with the presence of the cooperative and financial support from other organizations, we produce as much as we need,” explained Psindula.
He further narrates that with the number members they have at present, they produce at least 500 litres of cooking oil and make a substantial profit after selling.
Overtime, the establishment of farmer organizations and cooperatives has been noted as one that helps small-scale farmers improve their income and develop their managerial skills by scaling up business oriented farming.
Studies show that by 2017, Malawi had over 920 registered cooperatives that are operating, with numbers growing by the proceeding years.
In most of their work, they serve as an internal market for members by providing a reliable and stable market that acts as a mediator between buyers and the members.
To a larger extent, they buy commodities from members for resell or value addition.
Principal Secretary in the ministry of agriculture, Godfrey Mamba, is highly praising the duty cooperatives carry in the agriculture market.
Mamba further views cooperatives as a possible gateway to the growth of the economy if given all the required support.
“You have heard the President say we need to move from subsistence kind of thinking and we have to think commercially. So this what we want our cooperatives to think like.
“There are issues regarding lack of accountability among cooperatives so we want to have systems where everybody is accountable that when we talk of aggregating produce, there should be no mistrust,” adds Mamba.
As presently Malawi is struggling to earn forex, hopes were high that a five-year long export agreement that the country signed with South Sudan was going to be the salvation that the is dearly needed.
The first attempt in the 124-million-dollar deal hit a snag as Malawi failed to sustain it, and only managed to export 0.4 percent of the required capacity.
Comments from players in the sector are that the country is losing out mainly because it is failing to aggregate enough good quality products for export.
Huge investment on exports according to the parliamentary committee on trade and industry chairperson, Simplex Chithyola Banda, would be a catalyst to realizing the Malawi we want as envisioned in the development blueprint MW2063.
“The good thing we are learning now is that as Malawi, we have a reliable market in South Sudan and what we need is to produce enough so that we can satisfy the export demand,” indicates Chithyola Banda.
The document under its pillar of agricultural productivity and commercialization explains that improved agricultural productivity and well-functioning structured agricultural markets can transform the sector to generate income.
Improving the agricultural productivity as prescribed in the document will have immediate effects on the dynamics of poverty and hunger.
For cooperatives that are already functioning towards exportation of processed products, the potential of contributing to the generation of forex remains untapped.
Principal Secretary in the ministry of trade, Christine Zakeyo, agrees to the notion of capacity building to make gains in the export venture and she makes a passionate call to the private sector and Small and Medium Enterprises to join in.
“We are also proposing that the private sector especially the SMEs, they should also look at working together in groups because when working alone, you face challenges, but when working together as cooperatives you put all the volumes together,” stresses Zakeyo.
Specifically on how cooperatives can perform in the same, Director of Trade, Promotion and Facilitation at Malawi Investment and Trade Center, Cindy Kabombwe, believes good examples have already been established in some parts of the country.
“One of the export ready companies that we are engaging with as MITC is Bua cooperative. When we started working with them, they had the commodity but it wasn’t well packaged.
“We engaged experts and grilled them through a business clinic on how they can package their commodity for export,” adds Kabombwe.
For Mikonga cooperative which is fast growing and advancing towards certifying their cooking oil with the Malawi Bureau of Standards for easy distribution, efforts are still in place to realize the goal of making their product an export material. Through the manpower that is highly supported by women, led by their female co-manager, they intend to keep Malawi hunger free just as they are doing with their families.