By Yamikani Yapuwa
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Wednesday expressed concern over the low price at which companies are buying tea from smallholder farmers in the country.
Minister responsible, Kondwani Nankhumwa said this in Mulanje during a tour of banana and tea smallholder farmers in Thyolo and Mulanje that it was unfortunate that companies are buying fresh tea from farmers at K121.30 per kilogramme.
“From time immemorial, smallholder farmers have been offered very low prices in as far as tea is concerned and I don’t know the reason.
“But when you go to other crops like maize and cash crop tobacco they are fetching good price unlike tea,” he pointed out.
Nankhumwa said there was great need to transform the tea industry and need to talk to big companies who buy tea from smallholder farmers to start buying tea at good prices.
“Let me encourage Members of Parliament from Mulanje, Thyolo and Nkhata-bay where tea is grown to stand up for the common farmer in their constituencies.
“They need to be talking about this in parliament; we need to be together on this. I will soon start meeting tea growers committees from Mulanje, Thyolo and Nkhata-bay to talk about these concerns so that we talk the same language,” the Minister advised.
He said government would produce a very common paper strategy to make sure that tea farmers in these districts are fetching very good prices.
During the visit, Chairperson for Mtendere Tea and Horticulture Cooperative, Wilfred Kastom bemoaned the unavailability of seeds, a thing which has resulted in them to rely so much on companies who prioritise themselves and give them leftovers.
“We would love things to get back to how it used to be when we were in smallholder where lots of tea seeds were given to us and we were able to plant 300,000 seeds per year as compared to recent times where we only get 10,000.
“We need this to change because tea is a viable crop in Thyolo as maize does not do well due to lack of nutrients in our soil in this area.
“Tea is magic crop that stays for hundred years. All a farmer needs to do is just take care and feed the crop,” he said.
Kastom said that the K121.30 at which companies buy tea from them is just too little if they consider what goes into tea farming as such they are unable to bear the fruits of their labour.
“Some of us have children to send to school but then we are failing to pay their school fees since what we are getting is way too little,” he added.
Kastom appealed to government to provide them with tea drying machines to enable them process the tea and add value on their own for them to sell at a high price.-MANA