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A dream that needs support

Towonge Munthali, 35, of Ntwalo, Mzimba, is married with five children.

Of the five children, four are girls and two of the girls are currently in secondary school.

In 2014, she was privileged to attend a training course in low-cost farm inputs production which was organised by Mwandama Millennium Challenge.

She considers that training as a turning point in her farming occupation as evidenced by increased improved crop production as a result of the knowledge and skills acquired from the course.

Today, Tiwonge proudly boasts of being a mother who has a home that is food secure as she is able to harvest enough maize, soya and other crops including two heads of cattle.

Coincidentally, World Food Programme (WFP) with funds from Fica has constructed a 700 metric ton warehouse in Ntwalo’s area and Agricultural Commodity Exchange (ACE) is currently helping build and improve the capacity of Tasanganapo Cooperative to efficiently run the warehouse under ACE’s Warehouse Receipt System.

During my recent visit to the area, farmers were grateful for this development as they now can safely store their grain not only in readiness for sale but also storage for food.

The farmers further express their excitement that the warehouse receipt system has also provided them with avenues for income generation as they can engage in some business ventures. This year, Tiwonge was able to deposit 374 kilogrammes of maize and sold her Warehouse Receipt to WFP collectively with her fellow cooperative members at K260 per kilogramme. Having paid the storage fees, which she says were reasonably affordable, Tiwonge walked away with over K90,000.

Together with her husband, who also usually attends the UN Women and Gender trainings, they mutually agreed to finish purchase of the remaining iron sheets and bought cement to finish plastering their new housing project. Tiwonge strongly believes that the UN Women trainings that she attends together with her husband have helped them as a family in good decision making for the different endeavours.

In addition, she has an account with the local Village Savings Loan group where the family has invested some of their money.

I enjoyed interacting with Tiwonge as she explained her position today and her vision in the years to come as she reflected on her past. Despite being a small-scale farmer, she has been able to employ someone to help in land preparation as she plans to grow more crops in the next growing season. From her story, it is evidently clear that she is very optimistic about the

future and looking at what she is currently able to accomplish such as paying for her children education and finishing her house, one is left to conclude that her dream needs to be adequately supported.

In my view, it goes without saying that this dream has been enhanced because the buyer, WFP, in this case, had offered a good price for her Warehouse Receipt.

Over the years that I have been working in grain industry and in the rural communities, I have noticed one thing. Over 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) registered with Congoma indicate to be taking part in implementing interventions in various agricultural commodity value chains through engaging the rural communities.

The interventions, among others, are either in production or post harvest handling sectors. These organisations, which include government, have invested a lot in training extension workers who have managed to boost production through irrigation technologies, modern conservation agricultural practices and also through use of low-cost inputs which Tiwonge is one good example of the beneficiaries. I have also noticed that some of these organisations play a role at both ends of the value chain. These include such projects that support production and on the other hand those that procure food items for relief distribution or resale.

As we engage in discussions on economically empowering the rural communities estimated to be 80 percent engaged in agricultural production, I have some very important questions to reflect on.

What if government, after its extension workers have facilitated production and aggregation, instructs NFRA and Admarc to allocate funds to buy from those that are in cooperatives or associations? What if NGOs like World Vision buy the relief commodities from their own trained farmer groups? I am always left wondering why government should continue to pay expensively to vendors for the grain produced by farmer groups that are assisted by government paid extension workers and others produce using subsidised inputs?

My view is that if these organisations were to pay these good prices to the poor small holder farmers, this could be one way of economically empowering the communities rather than leaving these farmers to be exploited by the vendors who offer them very low prices. Just for example, if all government boarding secondary schools were to buy the sugar beans from these farmer organisations, could that not bring the much desired economic benefit to most rural communities in the country?

As I drove back from Mzimba to Lilongwe through Chikangawa Forest, I had a lot of mixed feelings on many of the unanswered questions lingering in my mind.Who will take these suggestions to government? How long will our farmers keep on suffering when solutions are on our doorsteps? Who will speak for these farmers who are being exploited by vendors year after year? Who will buy from Tiwonge next year so that her dream becomes a reality?

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