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Experts discuss future of smallholder farmers

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Lobin Lowe

Agriculture experts Thursday banged heads on the future of smallholder farmers in the country during a virtual Policy Research Seminar which Mwapata Institute and National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (Nasfam) organised.

The seminar was organised to, among other things, share lessons and experiences of smallholder farmers in Malawi, bring to the fore challenges smallholder farmers are facing as well as to see whether the country’s smallholder farmers are well positioned to champion agriculture transformation.

Speaking when he opened the seminar, Agriculture Minister Lobin Lowe said weak productivity remains the biggest challenge affecting the growth of smallholder farmers.

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Lowe sad the low productivity has not only affected the growers but also the growth of agriculture value chains.

According to Lowe, for many years, local smallholder farmers have struggled to produce even enough to meet their food needs, resulting in pockets of hunger.

“How can we talk about value addition when the yields are not even enough to meet our food requirements?” Lowe asked.

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Nasfam Chief Executive Officer Betty Chinyamunyamu said smallholder farmers are the main producers of food in Malawi, contributing about 80 percent to local food production.

Chinyamunyamu added that smallholder farmers are also crucial in the production of Malawi’s top export crop, tobacco, as they account for 90 percent of tobacco output in Malawi.

She observed that, over the years, despite the massive support to smallholder farmers, growth of the industry has been less than six percent.

Chinyamunyamu said, in other parts of the world, farmers are producing three times as much from a similar size of land that Malawians are cultivating.

“Why is it that colleagues in some parts of the world are producing three times what we are producing? What technologies are they using?

“We need to find solutions that could help smallholder farmers to champion agriculture transformation. What can we do differently? Chinyamunyamu asked.

Mwapata acting Chief Executive Officer William Chadza said the future contribution of smallholder farmers to the economy would depend on what the experts’ foresightedness.

In his keynote address, Mwapata Co-Principal Investigator Milu Muyanga underscored the need for agriculture authorities to invest more resources in research and development as well as extension services as one way of boosting agriculture productivity.

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