Farmers, value chain players discuss sesame sector

โ€œPrices for sesame in the country are a disappointment to farmers. For instance, in Karonga, we were selling sesame at K1,500 while in Nkhotakota the same was K4,000 and taking the same crop to Tanzania is K6,000.ย We need to invest in direct market identification so that we benefit as farmers,โ€ said Mr Flavious Msisha a sesame farmer from Karonga.

Mr Msisha made these sentiments during the stakeholder consultative conference on sesame jointly organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, AICC, SVTP and TRADE Programme in Lilongwe. The workshop provided a platform for stakeholders to discuss the wins, challenges, opportunities, lessons learnt and strategies to promote the sesame sector.

Stakeholders included government ministries and departments, off-takers, Export Development Fund, MITC, and development partners like JICA and WFP.ย The conference was also attracted representatives of sesame farmers from Nkhotakota, Salima, Karonga, Nsanje, Chikwawa, Balaka, Lilongwe and Kasungu.ย  The guest of honour during the function was the Controller of Agriculture and Technical Services Mr Alfred Mwenifumbo.

One of the farmers, Ms Kondwani Phoya of Green Tide Farms in Nsanje, implored farmers to work hard, produce sesame in high volumes, and be aggressive in satisfying identified markets. Ms Phoya grows sesame on a large scale.

โ€œIt is important to identify the quality and variety of sesame the market is looking for. I was able to identify an offtaker from Italy however I failed to satisfy that market as they were looking for black sesame while what I had in stock was white sesame,โ€ she said.

Farmers in Malawi grow different varieties of sesame.  For instance, brown sesame which is grown in Nkhotakota, Nsanje and Salima produces mainly white sesame while farmers in Karonga produce brown, white and black sesame in line with their Tanzanian market.

โ€œIt is essential to diversify the varieties of sesame grown to satisfy the available market. In our case, we grow and sell white, brown and black sesame to satisfy the market we have in Tanzania, added Mr Msisha.

Farmers also highlighted the importance of market research. Mr Manzoor Bheda of Kakuyu Farms encouraged farmers to have the ability to hold produce until prices on the market improve.

โ€œI acknowledge that as farmers we always have pressing needs. We can consider selling part of our produce to meet our current needs while keeping the rest for sell at higher cost. The art of holding produce is important,โ€ said Bheda.

Commenting on crop diversification and value addition, Mahesh Ghedia from Paramount Holdings, who is an off-taker/processor of different crops, including sesame, said: โ€œThere is a need for farmers to think outside the box, move from the comfort zone and try new crops like sesame. Malawi is producing small amounts of sesame compared to other countries in the region. 

We need to work together to penetrate markets with high volumes of sesame and value add for better markets,โ€ he said.

Sesame is one of the potential high-value crops considered for cultivation by farmers working under the SVTP.  

The conference was funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, SVTP, TRADE Programme and AICC.

Highlights from the Conference:

  1. There is need for extensive research on sesame in the country. There is a need to invest in research.
  2. Seed availability is a challenge in the country; hence recycling of seeds by farmers.
  3. Government should set realistic minimum prices for crops, including sesame.
  4. Farmers must have the ability to hold yields and wait to sell when market prices go up.
  5. Government should set up one regulatory body for all crops. 
  6. There is a need for research on sesame and good agronomy practices.
  7. When farmers work in organized groups, there is good bargaining power.
  8. The government, through the Malawi Regulatory Authority, should work with farmers to formalize external trade. Eighty per cent of forex is being lost through smuggling.
  9. Responsible chemical use is crucial. There is a need to comply with global requirements. 
  10. There is a need for linkages and diversification to bring resilience to the farmers.
  11. Export potential still needs to be fully unlocked.
  12. Malawi is strategically positioned to take advantage of emerging opportunities like sesame.