Malawi: Sweet corn brings sweeter earnings

| January 12, 2015

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It is early morning and the grass is covered with dew. Maize plants sparkle in the golden light of the rising sun. Yohane Masulani and his wife are already busy, harvesting fresh, green maize from their field, about two kilometres from where they live.

As the sun climbs the sky, Mr. Masulani loads a bulging bag of maize onto his bicycle and rushes off to the market. His wife stays to irrigate the maize which is not yet ready to harvest.

Mr. Masulani farms a half-hectare plot near Kabudula, a village about 35 kilometres north of Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. He was not making money selling dried maize. Then one day in late 2009, he attended a field day where he learned about green maize.


Yohane Masulani Photo: Mark Ndipita

He recalls: “I was surprised to see farmers in Chankhutha village, about four kilometres from our village, selling green maize … during the dry season. I then learnt that it is possible to grow maize throughout the year as long as you follow recommended practices.”

He decided to follow the other farmers’ lead and harvest his maize before it was dry. He explains: “With fresh green maize, I can sell any time of the year and I do not worry about post-harvest losses … Selling green maize has been a positive turning point in my family’s income and food security.”

Mr. Masulani’s maize field lies along a river bank. He has a number of wells that help him grow maize two or three times a year. He says: “I do not rely on rainwater. I irrigate as well. [At first] I plant only part of the field … and after three weeks I plant the remaining part in order to increase the harvesting period.”

Because fresh maize starts to spoil after harvest, it is important to sell it as quickly as possible. Mr. Masulani offers both roasted and uncooked maize to ensure that he sells his whole bag in one day. He says: “Sometimes we [try to] preserve the taste and smell by putting it on the roof during the night, but customers can easily detect such maize. Ultimately, it sells for a low price.”

Mr. Masulani applies manure to his field to reduce his spending on fertilizer. He explains, “I first apply manure before planting and, after 21 days, I apply a top dressing [of chemical] fertilizer. This has helped me to reduce the quantity of fertilizer [I use] by half.”

Benjamini Katsukunya grows green maize in Msenga village. He sells his cobs on the road which passes the nearby Dzaleka refugee camp. He says, “There is high demand, especially for roasted maize. Very few people buy maize to cook in their homes.”

Mr. Katsukunya sells a 90-kilogram bag of sweet, quick-maturing maize every day. By doing the selling himself and avoiding middlemen, he makes a larger profit. He says, “I sell each maize cob [for] between [10 and 20 U.S. cents] and I make about [$16 U.S.] per day.”

Mr. Masulani agrees that avoiding middlemen means a higher profit. Selling the fresh maize directly to customers instead of vendors has greatly benefited his family. He says: “I am now happy in my family because I can afford all the basic needs. Previously, I was lacking money for soap, school fees and clothes. But fresh green maize has restored hope in my life. Next year I am planning to buy a small water pump to help me irrigate maize during dry seasons.”