Towards the end of the month of May, Chomora and I went to the African fair in Sakuragicho, Yokohama. This fair took place along with the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Develeopment (TICAD IV), which was attended by President Bingu wa Mutharika and 39 other African heads of state.

Most African countries had their stands at this fair but we could not manage to visit them because we got stuck on the Malawi stand, where we met Mr Robert Salama from Malawi Export Promotion Council (MEPC), Mr Mbinga from Mulli Brothers, Mrs Kaima Kaluma-Sulumba, the National Coordinator of the One Village One Product (OVOP) in Malawi and some officials from the Malawian Embassy here in Japan.

Apart from chatting with these esteemed Malawians, we also saw a large number of Japanese people getting interested in Malawi’s products. The products that were being exhibited on the Malawi stand included coffee, tea, sugar, peanut butter, traditional wear, baskets, handicrafts, groundnuts, baobab jam, nali hot sauce, macadamia nuts etc. Take a look at some photos from the Malawi stand:

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The team manning the Malawi stand was overwhelmed by the interest shown by the Japanese people. The Dailytimes reports that Mr Salama from MEPC said

There are huge interests in green coffee. There is a big Japanese company which is interested in our green coffee, they import the coffee from Kenya Uganda and Ethiopia and now they want the Malawi coffee.They have seen our samples, they are interested and now they have asked for a quotation for a full container for a start.

This is a good development for our country. As a blogger based here in Japan, I am very impressed. My advice to fellow Malawians is that we must seize these opportunities vigorously and make sure that the country gains a lot out of this fair. There is a very good impression here about Malawi.My only concern is that some companies in Malawi did not put their contact details (phone number, fax, email) in the Fair guide book.This will make it difficult for people interested in their products to contact them. Let me also point out that it is high time that Malawian companies maintained their own websites. It is not expensive to maintain a website today. The benefits of having a company website are enormous. With time, you will notice that what you gain by having a company website outweighs the costs of doing so by far.I am maintaining one here quite easily. If you need a company website, I can help you to get started. Finally, let me congratulate One Village One Product (OVOP-Malawi) and Mulli Brothers for maintaining their own websites. A few other companies submitted URLs that cannot be retrieved. Please refrain from submitting dead URLs because that will iritate your potential customers.

20/06/2008:Update

The Daily Times further reports that apart from green tea and other commodities, Malawi has clinched deals to export honey to Japan. In an interview, on the sidelines of the ongoing sessions, the Minister of Trade and Industry Henry Mussa is reported to have said

We have indeed found potential market for Malawi’s produce.Clearly, we have clinched deals in tea, coffee, groundnuts and soya beans just to mention a few. In addition, firm offers were placed on Malawi’s honey, apart from tea and coffee.

Malawi’s honey in Japan!This is a great development!When I saw Mzuzu coffee being exhibited at the fair, I got so excited. I immediately recalled that when I was growing up, my grandfather, Mr Owen Wilton Nthambazale Nyirenda, used to be a great coffee farmer up there in Usowoya.His biggest coffee farm was at Kawenyanga. He, however, abandoned it and switched to tobacco because coffee was no longer lucrative. But of late, it seems coffee is becoming lucrative again. The Mzuzu Smallholder Coffee Authority is doing a good job and it seems the returns to the farmer are better than they were when my grandfather abandoned his farm.

The demand for Malawi’s honey in Japan is exciting me even more. In rural Malawi, most people practise honey farming  for domestic consumption.When they produce more honey than their needs, the excess honey just gets wasted. As I was growing up in Malawi, Lungazi, a mountainous area close to Mzokoto and Phwezi, was home to a large number of highly committed honey farmers whose excess honey was just being wasted. With the openning of the Japan market, the government must reach out to the Lungazi farmers and their colleagues in other parts of the country so that they can benefit from this development. These farmers have to be equiped with some basic skills on commercial bee keeping and honey harvesting techniques. Some Smallholder Honey Authorities have to be formed. These have to be modelled based on the existing Smallholder Coffee and Tea Authorities.