Women of the Mikonga Cooperative make progress in producing cooking oil as a possible export – Capital Radio Malawi
Leaders of the Mikonga cooperative in Mchinji district hope that with their efforts in cooking oil production backed by women’s support, they can contribute to the local export market and earn foreign exchange.
Since the year 2014, 64 women and 47 men from the traditional authority area of Dambe in the district have been working in the production of cooking oil in their cooperative called Mikonga.
The cooking oil is made from locally sourced sunflower and the goal is to make it the best product for mass distribution, and possibly export.
The Mikonga cooperative is one of many local groups that produce food products and process them with a touch of added value.
The cooperative’s director, Mastala Psindula, says that with the progress made, the nutritional benefits to people in their area and surrounding villages are not hard to trace.
“At the time, we didn’t have a factory to produce 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 recounts that with the number of members they currently have, they produce at least 500 liters of cooking oil and make a substantial profit after the sale.
Over time, the establishment of farmers’ organizations and cooperatives has been noted as one that helps small-scale farmers improve their incomes and develop their management skills by developing commercial agriculture.
Studies show that in 2017, Malawi had over 920 registered cooperatives operating, with the number increasing over the years.
In most of their work, they serve as an internal marketplace for members by providing a reliable and stable marketplace that mediates between buyers and members.
To a greater extent, they buy products from members to resell or add value.
The principal secretary of the ministry of agriculture, Godfrey Mamba, praises the duty of cooperatives in the agricultural market.
Mamba further sees cooperatives as a possible gateway to the growth of the economy if they receive all the necessary support.
“You heard the president say we have to let go of subsistence thinking and we have to think commercially. So that’s what we want our co-ops to think.
“There are issues regarding lack of accountability among cooperatives, so we want to have systems where everyone is accountable that when we talk about bundling produce, there shouldn’t be mistrust,” adds Mamba.
With Malawi currently struggling to earn foreign exchange, hopes were high that a five-year export deal the country signed with South Sudan was going to be the much-needed salvation.
The first attempt at the $124 million deal fell through as Malawi failed to maintain it and only managed to export 0.4% of the required capacity.
Comments from industry players indicate that the country is losing mainly because it fails to aggregate enough good quality products for export.
According to the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Trade and Industry, Simplex Chithyola Banda, a huge investment in exports would be a catalyst to achieve the Malawi we want as envisioned in the development plan 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 to be able to meet export demand” , says Chithyola Banda.
The paper under its agricultural productivity and marketing pillar explains that improving agricultural productivity and well-functioning formal agricultural markets can transform the sector to generate income.
Improving agricultural productivity as prescribed in the document will have immediate effects on the dynamics of poverty and hunger.
For cooperatives that are already working towards the export of processed products, the potential to contribute to foreign exchange generation remains untapped.
The principal secretary of the Ministry of Commerce, Christine Zakeyo, accepts the notion of building capacity to achieve gains in the export business and she makes an impassioned appeal to the private sector and small and medium enterprises to join it.
“We also propose that the private sector, especially SMEs, also consider working together in groups because when you work alone you face challenges, but when you work together as cooperatives you bring all the volumes together” , underlines Zakeyo.
Regarding specifically how cooperatives can operate in the same field, the director of trade, promotion and facilitation at the Malawi Trade and Investment Center, Cindy Kabombwe, believes that good examples have already been established in some parts of the country.
“One of the export-ready companies that we engage with as MITC is Bua Cooperative. When we first started working with them, they had the product, but it was not packaged well.
“We hired experts and interviewed them in a trade clinic on how they can package their products for export,” Kabombwe adds.
For the Mikonga cooperative, which is growing rapidly and moving towards certifying its cooking oil with the Malawi Bureau of Standards for easy distribution, efforts are still in place to achieve the goal of making its product a export. With a strong female-supported workforce, led by their co-manager, they aim to end hunger in Malawi, just as they do with their families.