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Embracing commercial agriculture

KASITOMU— We want to benefit from tea cultivation

Farmers in Mbonechera Extension Planning Area (EPA) in Machinga District were experiencing many challenges in selling their cassava tubers.

The situation was worse to female farmers.

But in 2008, women from Traditional Authority Nsanama in the Eastern Region district, decided to work together to improve their profits. They were tired of low prices vendors offered for their cassava.

The women have formed what is now called Nsanama Cassava Producers and Marketing Cooperative Society Limited. The cooperative’s Secretary, Loveness Andsen, says working as a group has increased their bargaining power as well as increasing production, while ensuring that their products are competitive on the market.

Currently, the cooperative is supplying High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) to Joeclean Investments, Osman Foods, Golden Foods and German International Cooperation.

But Andsen says they are not meeting the demand.

“We have a ready market for cassava flour. However, we have a machine which can process 1.5 tonnes of cassava flour against the total demand of 50 tonnes in a month,” Andsen says.

In 2018, the Malawi Government rolled out a six-year $95 million World Bank-funded Agricultural Commercialisation (Agcom) project. The cooperative became one of the first eight beneficiaries.

The project aims at transforming smallholder agriculture from mostly subsistence to commercial.

Nsanama Cassava Producers and Marketing Cooperative Society Limited expressed interest to procure a cassava flour and starch processing machine. The cooperative also wanted to construct a factory.

Initially, the 243 farmers requested K95,691,750 but Agcom Project approved K74,350,000. Under the arrangement, Agcom is supposed to provide 70 percent of the amount requested while the cooperative will contribute 30 percent.

The farmers are comfortable with the arrangement, as they say that will promote ownership on the initiative.

“With the contribution we are making, all members will be serious in whatever we do. We are already running up and down to raise the amount needed for us to get the grant. Agcom [secretariat] has promised to link us to an agricultural bank. We are optimistic that we will be given the loan,” Andsen says.

In Thyolo, there is high expectation among members of Mtendere Tea and Horticultural Producers and Marketing Society. They are into tea cultivation. Satemwa Tea Estate will be buying the tea.

Wilfred Kasitomu, board chairperson of group, says they are expecting a lot from Agcom.

“We submitted a proposal to Agcom and they told us that we were successful. In the proposal, there was a request to get 600,000 tea seedlings, a tractor, and a machine used for cutting tea. We also want some training and construction of a warehouse. For the horticultural aspect of our business, we want to have a cold-room,” Kasitomu says.

He, however, says they were provided with 200,000 tea seedlings. He says in the next phase they will get 280,000 seedlings and then 120,000 in the third phase.

The tractor is one of the key items in their proposal.

“We need a tractor. We want to be using it. We really have to mechanise our farming. Manual system is time-consuming. It also involves too much labour. But if we use machines, we minimise time and labour, thereby saving a lot of money,” he says.

About 330 farmers are in the cooperative, out of which 196 have so far benefitted from Agcom grant. These farmers have grown tea on about 15 hectares. Kasitomu says they expect to grow a further 40 hectares next year and another 15 hectares the year after.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Number 8 pursues the promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all by 2030. Promoting initiatives under the project, will definitely contribute to improved livelihoods for people.

One of the farmers under Mtendere Cooperative, Gladys Chinseu, has just grown tea on 0.2 hectares. She says is a good investment to her family.

“Since 2001, I have been trying to get tea seedlings. Tea is very profitable. People who are growing tea are making a lot of money. I am happy that through this project, I have been able to get the seedlings. This is an investment. My children will also benefit from the same,” she says.

She has vowed to continue taking care of the tea.

World Bank states that Malawi’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, employing nearly 80 percent of the population.

The 2018 Malawi Population Census report shows that Malawi’s population is predominantly rural-based. It says 84 percent of the total population of 17.5 million people are living in rural areas, with most of them involved in subsistence farming.

Agcom’s goal is to transform smallholder agriculture from mostly subsistence to commercial. SDG 2 seeks sustainable solutions to end hunger in all its forms by 2030 and to achieve food security. According to the United Nations, achieving this goal will require better access to food and the widespread promotion of sustainable agriculture.

It says this entails improving the productivity and incomes of small-scale farmers by promoting equal access to land, technology and markets, sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices.

It also a fact that by supporting women of Nsanama in Cassava production, the project is, in a way, helping women and girls have equal opportunities to those of men and boys. In the final analysis it will help in achieving SDG 5: achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls.

NAKHUMWA—We discuss with applicants

Agcom National Project Coordinator, Ted Nakhumwa, says there are a number of factors that have to be taken into consideration when disbursing grants.

“When we see that they have asked for is a big amount, we don’t disqualify them but, together with them, we try to see what their core business is, try to see what they are asking for makes sense at that particular time,” Nakhumwa says.

He says even when farmers are, for instance, requesting K100 million and are being given the amount in phases, more factors are taken into consideration.

“In a phase in which they are getting K40 million, for example, we ask them to give 30 per cent of the amount. You will find that that’s just a little sum. But remember that the 30 per cent is also divided in two parts: In-kind and cash contribution. On the minimum cash could be 10 per cent but depending on what you are asking for, it can go beyond 10 per cent,” Nakhumwa says.

He adds: “If it’s all machinery that you are requiring, definitely it would be difficult for you to find in-kind out of that, much of what you are going to pay will be cash. But for a building, for example a warehouse, you can contribute in terms of labour and providing bricks. That will become your in-kind contribution. That will reduce your cash contribution.”

A December 2019 Malawi Economic Monitor report indicates that the country’s economy was expected to grow by 4.4 percent, an increase from 3.5 percent of 2018. The report attributed the increased growth rate to an increase in agricultural production.

It is clear also clear that if cassava farmers at Nsanama or smallholder tea farmers in Thyolo and other areas in Malawi benefit from initiatives that are promoting commercial agriculture, they will help improve the country’s economy.

Obviously, such initiatives will also help will also help in achieving, among others, SDGs 2, 5 and 8 by 2030.

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