Tobacco has for many years been called ‘Malawi’s green gold’, an expression coined to signify the importance of the crop to the country’s economy. But while the leaf enjoyed a favourable time and space on the international market, several crops in the legume family had been silently waiting in the wings to steal the show.
Now that tobacco is facing pressure from the international anti-smoking lobbies, campaigns which have seen the price of the once precious leaf plunge on the world market to the disadvantage of growers and development countries whose livelihoods and economies respectively depended on it, legumes production and sales are edging in as a possible replacement.
Recently, the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (MITC), a trade and investment arm of government and the AHL Commodities Exchange (AHCX), a crop marketing body, announced a huge international demand for Malawi’s legumes promising to fetch $275million (about K190 billion).
The announcement made through an advertisement in the local press said traders outside the country were looking for 100, 000 tonnes of pigeon peas, 130 000 tonnes of soy beans, 110 000 tonnes of groundnuts comprising Chalimbana and CG 7, 30 000tonnes of sunflower, 10 000 tonnes of kidney beans and 5 000 tonnes of sugar beans.
MITC confirmed that there is a big demand for legumes in Europe, Asian countries including India as well as in different parts of Africa. The demand is said to be worth $275 million.
Meanwhile, the AHCX is in a drive to mobilise smallholder and commercial farmers who would like to meet the international demand by supplying the legumes.
Reacting, the Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) applauds AHCX saying it is an ideal market for small holder farmers because it offers better buying prices, especially now when farmers can no longer rely on tobacco which is riddled with many challenges.
AHCX is a fully electronic market, which brings in transparency and empowers farmers by disseminating market information in real time to all market players while at the same time providing the market with options for risk management by offering future trading.