In recent years, Madagascar has emerged as a major player in the global black-eye pea trade.

By Dario Bard

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Madagascar’s black-eye pea production has grown substantially over the past few campaigns. In fact, the island nation off of Africa’s southeast coast appears to have surpassed Myanmar as the world’s top black-eye pea exporter.

With Madagascar’s black-eye pea harvest nearly wrapped up as of mid-September, IFT checked in with Hirdjee Komel of Sarelacos & Cie and Naynesh Malde Kara of SAS Malde Kara to get a sense of how the 2017 crop turned out.

Both sources tell IFT that weather conditions were challenging this growing season. From March to April, when the crop was planted, growers had to cope with the constant threat of cyclones. In early March, Cyclone Enawo made landfall in northeastern Madagascar with winds of up to 300 km per hour. The storm, the strongest to hit the island nation in 13 years, caused extensive flooding and claimed the lives of at least 80 people. The vanilla fields were especially hard hit, but the black-eye pea crop, grown in western Madagascar, was spared the worst of it. Even so, Malde Kara reports that Enawo did affect crop quality and yields. The latter were further impacted by the onset of drought conditions that followed the cyclone season.

“The big problem this year is that we did not get much rain,” Komel sums up.

Production and Quality

Komel estimates the average yield this year at 1,000 to 1,500 kg/ha. Malde Kara estimates it at 1,000 kg/ha., down from 1,200 kg/ha. last year, and adds that, because of the low yields, growers have demanded higher prices for their black-eye peas. In terms of the volume of this year’s crop, official figures are unavailable, but Komel estimates some 50,000 MT were harvested. Malde Kara, meanwhile, pegs production at 60,000 MT. Both report that production is up from last year; Komel estimates the 2016 crop at 35,000 to 45,000 MT, while Malde Kara estimates it at 45,000 MT.

On quality, Komel notes that, at 480/460 per 100 grams, the size of this year’s black-eye peas is smaller than last year’s. He attributes this reduction in size to the lack of adequate moisture. Another issue affecting quality is seed degeneration. Madagascar’s black-eye pea industry relies on imported seed from California. Unless the seed supply is renewed, the quality of the final product deteriorates over time. Malde Kara reports that this year the use of low-quality seed has manifested itself in an increased number of black-eye peas with cracked coats. This necessitated greater manual sorting and elevated the cost of this year’s hand-picked selected quality.

Market Outlook

According to Malde Kara, 2016 black-eye pea inventories were cleared out before the 2017 crop was harvested. Both he and Komel estimate 2016/17 exports at 40,000 MT. Madagascar, therefore, will rely entirely on its new crop for marketing year 2017/18. Komel projects exports will end up between 35,000 to 45,000 MT this campaign, while Malde Kara sees them hitting 50,000 MT.

Malde Kara reports the top markets for Madagascar black-eye peas include Europe, India, Pakistan, Turkey, UAE, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Canada and the U.S. Komel ranks Europe as the top buyer, followed by India, Turkey and Sri Lanka.

Komel explains that there are two distinct markets for Madagascar black-eye peas. On the one hand, markets such as Europe, Canada and the U.S., which take 40% of Madagascar’s exports, prefer hand-picked selected quality. On the other hand, markets in Asia, including India and Pakistan, have laxer quality standards.

“Last year, China was a major buyer,” Komel recounts. “They bought dress-quality directly from farmers, without any processing or cleaning. There was no added value or work for the local people and this hurt Madagascar’s reputation for quality.”

This was not the only hit to Madagascar’s reputation last cycle. The country also received a warning from the European Union when authorities there found traces of pesticide sprayed directly on five containers of black-eye peas shipped from Madagascar.

To address this and other issues, a joint government and industry effort was undertaken to set national standards for black-eye pea exports. This effort led the Ministry of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to issue technical requirements for black-eye pea exports in June of this year.

Additional policy is needed, say Komel and Malde Kara, to address the issues of pesticide application and seed renewal. But with exports posed to continue to climb in 2017/18, Madagascar seems destined to cement its position as the world’s top black-eye pea exporter.

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Dario Bard, IFT Journalist