Adding value to cassava
When Rural Market Development Trust (Rumark) organised agro-dealer training in Zomba, then 22-year-old Phillip Yohane had registered to realise his dream of becoming a successful agro-dealer.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) in 2014 launched a multi-partner initiative – Strengthening Agricultural Input and Output Markets in Africa – which would benefit 30,000 smallholder farmers and 380 agro-dealers in six districts in Malawi’s Southern Region.
Rumark led a consortium comprising Farmers Union of Malawi, National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi and Agriculture Commodity Exchange to implement the programme.
Yohane attended the training programme and instead of starting an agro-dealership business as he had wanted, he embarked on a path that would see hundreds of farmers in his area, Nasawa, benefitting from a different Agra-financed project which would improve cassava seed production.
While the training workshop was taking place, programme manager from Cassava Value Addition for Africa (Cava), a University of Malawi’s Chancellor College Chemistry Department project, came to introduce scaling up access to improved cassava varieties for sustainable value addition and markets in Malawi, a project which was starting under the USAID/Agra Scaling Seeds and Technologies Partnerships (SSTP).
Yohane was fascinated by the details of the coming project and thought people from his area would benefit if they participated. Many farmers in his area were growing indigenous cassava which was prone to disease attacks.
“After the workshop, I went to meet Cava officials and requested for the project to be introduced in my home area in Nasawa, Zomba. I consulted traditional leaders of the area and explained to them about cassava farming. They all showed interest in the project.” Yohane says.
Today, Nasawa is awash with farmers growing modern cassava varieties which are mostly sold as seed to other farmers and organisations. Nasawa Cassava Cooperative, a dully registered cooperative society has also been formed.
Yohane started mobilising people in his area and managed to bring together 15 farmers.
“Although I had assembled 15 farmers, only two were active,” Yohane says.
Patrick Kaliwo, a teacher in the area, was the most active farmer that worked with Yohane and Cava officials.
“I started making money right from the first harvest,” Kaliwo says, adding: “I have become a leading cassava seed producer over the past three years. All the cassava that I have in the field now has already been bought.”
After the first year of the project, the number of farmers doubled to 30 according to Yohane. In the 2015-2016 season, the number rose even higher to over 70.
He says once the community realised that cassava farming is profitable, they became interested in it. In the 2017- 2018 season, about 550 farmers have requested for cassava seed.
Cava Program Manager Vito Sandifolo agrees with Yohane.
“The project came to this community through Phillip Yohane, a young aspiring agro-dealer who introduced us to farmers, community leaders and extension workers. A few key farmers to work with were identified in 2014,” says Sandifolo, whose organisation had received a $298,000 grant from SSTP.
The philosophy, according to Sandifolo, is to build a cluster of farmers close to a processing plant so that raw material supply is improved and also to empower farmers to make profits from raw material and seeds. With support from Agra, planting materials were sourced from Chitedze Research Station in Lilongwe for farmers to start multiplying.
He says: “We had four varieties of cassava. Two bitter ones and two sweet ones.”
Kaliwo says he planted an acre and sold the planting materials and roots to Universal Industries, Malawi’s confectionery makers, for processing.
Other farmers developed an interest after witnessing his successes.
“My main source of income is now cassava. One of my children has graduated from the university while one is now in second year, another one is in secondary school. All these children are being financially supported by money from cassava farming,” he says.
Sandifolo says the community is still embracing cassava farming and it “is still being built and being used as source of planting materials for other farmers within Nasawa and other areas”.
Yohane, now 26, is still working with the farmers. They have registered the cooperative with the Ministry of Trade. They have plans to buy land for their processing plant.
As for Yohane, he has a hectare of cassava which he plans to sell and use the money to open his long-awaited agro-dealer shop.
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