I stumbled upon a discussion on Facebook about dried Mangoes originating from Malawi – which are being sold in some UK Supermarkets. I have known that dried Mangoes from Malawi are being sold across the world for some time, but I seem not to have given it much thought until now.
Among the comments on the discussion were the allegation that the export trade of Mangoes from Malawi doesn’t benefit indigenous Malawians that much. Proponents of this argument say that the trade disproportionately benefits only a few connected individuals or only foreign companies, the kind which do too little to remunerate farmers for their produce, or which do nothing to ensure there is a proportional distribution of profits to the growers. Some comments drew parallels with the mining industry and how despite significant sums in minerals being exported out of the country, the great majority of Malawians don’t really benefit from such export.
There were also those who differed, and claimed that over 2,000 farmers benefit from the trade in mangoes in Malawi, and that there is evidence of the lives of such farmers ‘improving’.
I think the problem with resource extraction of any kind is not only who is exporting that resource(mangoes in this case to the UK), and at what price, but also how the eventual profits that are made are distributed. This problem is not new.
The reason I say that is because if a faceless UK company is buying the mangoes in bulk at say £3 a Kg in Malawi, and then selling them at ~ £35 a Kg to UK supermarkets, or online, with the profits being deposited in a UK bank account belonging to that faceless company, most people will agree that the proportional benefit to Malawi will probably be minimal, and such benefit (if it can be said to exist) probably won’t create “wealth” among Malawians in the same way that the directors of the UK company are remunerated.
But say a Malawian cooperative of 60 Malawians (including farmers) partnered with another company in the UK, with the cooperative buying the equipment for drying, packaging etc, and the UK partner being responsible for the shipping/freight to the UK. If those mangoes then sell at £30 a Kg, with a contractual provision that the profits (after costs incurred by the UK company are deducted) would be split 50:50 between the UK company and the Malawian cooperative, then such an arrangement has in my view a far greater chance of creating wealth among the members of that cooperative, and a far greater chance of contributing to Malawi’s economy.
Especially when some current traders are being accused of paying farmers exploitative prices – as little as £0.14 (14 pence) per kg of Mangoes, far from the £3 I stated above.
Let’s face it, these kind of exports create wealth for citizens elsewhere, but they don’t in Malawi, and I think the reason is because of the way they have been traditionally structured. We can’t ask capitalists or people who come to Malawi to make money to change the way they do things. I doubt such would work.
But what Malawi can do is begin to urgently put in place policies, financial incentives and laws that help ordinary Malawians to take advantage of global opportunities.
This is important because Malawi has a tiny economy, and has a relatively small private sector/ industrial base. We are not earning Billions every year from gold and minerals, we are not yet earning Billions from oil, we are not earning $4.1 Billion annually from rubber as Thailand does. We are not earning $18.1 Billion a year from the fishing industry like Indonesia (2015 figures), nor are we earning $25 Billion from the export of Delivery Trucks – as Mexico does every year. In fact to put it all into perspective, even Greater Manchester (which had a population of 2.822 million people in 2019) has a economy far larger than the economy of the whole of Malawi.
So it is precisely these kinds of minor “resources” that we need to make the most of and use to achieve greater equality.
And it’s not just Mangoes, but Avocado, Malambe (Baobab Fruit), and other high sought after products from Malawi that must be more fairly exploited, to help ordinary Malawians improve their financial standing, and through that to help the country’s economy to grow.