Can you give me advice on my agricultural import/export business between Malawi...

Can you give me advice on my agricultural import/export business between Malawi and SA?


I am a young Malawian social entrepreneur. I have been trying to establish a successful business importing agricultural produce, specifically rice, beans (various),soy beans, ground nuts, tea, coffee, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mangoes, amongst others.

My idea is to set up an exporting company in Malawi, which I have registered and obtain the necessary licenses for, and an importing company here in South Africa, which can then manufacture and process these commodities.

The challenges I face are:

  1. I need mentorship from a company or individual who has been in this type of business. How do I approach the opportunity step by step? Where do I start? Given the limited or no capital that I have, are there possible partnerships I could form?
  2. Logistical (supply chain management) what are the options? How do you minimise costs? What are the costs? What quantities are profitable to import?
  3. Market information. Which companies buy or import such commodities? Are there any companies looking for these services and who are they?
  4. Financial assistance. Manufacturing and processing equipment is expensive. Where do I start?

First and foremost you need to do some research about your industry in general and agricultural import/export in particular between Malawi and SA. A good place to start would be the Department of Trade and Industry website.

It is extremely ambitious to contemplate being both the exporter and the importer if you have no previous experience or training in these fields.

You would need to establish (and meet the associated costs) two companies in two different legal environments.

Do your homework

Before you proceed, you need to do several things.

Familiarise yourself with Companies law in both countries and find out what is involved in company registration.

Do some research on what is involved in running a business – there is lots of info available on the internet.

You need a plan

Download a template for a business plan from the internet. You’ll find a business plan template here.

Attempt to complete a plan for setting up each company, i.e. the export one and the import one.

This will get your creative juices working and you will have a better idea of what is involved.

Do some further research into the regulations in South Africa that govern the import of fresh food products (Visit the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries’ website – they control this) and the regulations in Malawi (if any) that govern the export of fresh produce from that country.

Finding financial assistance

See if you can get an appointment with the heads of Business Partners, the Embassy of Malawi in South Africa (part of their mandate is to promote exports from Malawi to this country), Credit Guarantee Insurance Corporation’s Social Responsibility unit, Nedbank’s Small Business Unit, any other bank’s small business unit; the SEDA (government agency) office closest to you.

The head of trade facilitation at the provincial trade promotion agency nearest to you, etc. and use the opportunity to gather information on how you should proceed.

Brush up on your interview skills beforehand – you have to impress upon these people that you are someone who should be taken seriously.

Draw up a list

When you have a clear idea of what is involved in trading agricultural products across borders, and a better understanding of whether or not your idea is workable, make a list of exactly what it is you think you will need (in specific terms) in order to realise your dream, for instance:

  • Training in entrepreneurship
  • Help with putting together a business plan
  • Training in import/export
  • Relevant market research (which market? On what, precisely?)
  • A business partner/mentor
  • Finance (how much?), etc.

Ask for help

Once you have a concrete idea of exactly what help you need, you can set about finding companies that are a good fit for your requirements. There are several ways that you can ask for help:

  • Phone in to a talk radio station and ask listeners for help
  • Enter one of the many local competitions aimed at entrepreneurs just like yourself (for example Pitch & Polish or Rize Mzansi)
  • Send an article to business magazines outlining your plan, how you have gone about bringing it to fruition, and the success you have had to date.

No one company is going to provide everything you need as companies all have their own areas of specialisation.  However, if companies recognise something that they can easily contribute, a number may come forward with offers to assist you.

Rose Blatch
Rose Blatch is the Executive Director of the International Trade Institute of Southern Africa (ITRISA) based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is also the immediate past president of the International Association of Trade Training Organisations (IATTO). Rose led the team that developed the first global accreditation scheme for trade training/education programmes in the early 1990s and has since been directly involved in the formulation of IATTO’s new accreditation scheme. Rose has played a pivotal part in the development of trade skills amongst the business community in southern Africa, and been involved in trade strategy design and the creation of trade facilitation structures for various levels of government. She has also led the national team tasked with producing South Africa’s export qualifications, co-authored books and course material and written numerous articles on trade subjects. A seasoned speaker, Rose has addressed conferences in Europe, North America, Asia and Africa.