Soya and groundnut production is mainly dominated by smallholder farmers in Malawi and despite the huge potential in the field, the farmers are faced with limited access to market information and lack of access to improved varieties.
Out of the total production of Soya in Africa, the largest production comes from Malawi (6 percent) with an estimated 80 000 metric tons per year, followed by Kenya and Uganda at 2 percent with Tanzania coming in the third by 0.8 percent.
However, despite the increase in the production, the country has failed to translate into dominance in export market where countries with lower production figures like Tanzania leading Malawi.
During a recent field visit to Machinga and Mchinji districts, interactions with smallholder farmers brought to the core more glaring gaps in the flow of market information and an apparent restrictive market which they say they are not benefiting from.
Lewis Sitalo, a farmer from Chimpamba Village Traditional Authority Chinduzi in Machinga district, admitted to have cultivated in his field a type of Soya that he did not even know its name after he received the seed from the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (Nasfam).
“Officials from Nasfam brought us the seed and we were not even told what type it was or whether it was a hybrid or not. We are operating on a point of ignorance as we do not know if these varieties are suited to the local agronomic conditions,” said Sitalo who is a l so Chairman for Chinduzi Group Action Committee (GAC).
Recently the Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet ) with help from USAID through the Feed the Future Integrating in Value Chains Project (FtF-INC) instituted a study to identify structural and policy arrangements affecting the global market opportunities for Malawi’s Soya bean, groundnut and its products.
The commissioned study was also aimed at finding operational, practice and policy gaps hindering farmer adoption of new technologies in groundnut and soybean value chains in some sites of Lilongwe and Salima districts and it revealed a number of issues that need particular attention by both government, NGOs, research institutions, input suppliers and other processing and marketing agents.
“Particular attention is needed on investment in dissemination and technology development. Smallholder farmers mostly rely on government extension agents to access information on improved technologies in soya bean and groundnut value chains. As observed in other areas across Malawi, both farmers and extension agents have limited knowledge and awareness of groundnut and soybean varieties currently improved for production by agricultural research scientists,” reads the part of the study findings.
District Agriculture Development Officer (Dado) for Machinga District Palichi Munyenyembe attributes the lack in the flow of access to information on the background from where the system is coming from where there was no coordinated mechanism in place to offer such services.
“Many organisations are willing and ready to help the farmers realise better yields and grow the best quality seed types available and at the same time increasing market opportunities for the farmers.
“But the problem has been the approach which they are using when reaching out to the farmers. Many of them chose to ignore our office which is a coordinating point and in that way the role of the District Agriculture Extension Coordinating Committee (DAECC) has been rendered redundant,” said Munyenyembe.
Farmers have also bemoaned contract farming whereby by they are tied to sell their farm proceeds only to the NGO which provided them with the planted seed a thing they say has further limited their market value return and opportunities.
Levelesi Gong’ontha a groundnut farmer from TA Dambe, Kasamba village in Mchinji said through contract farming, their market base has further been restricted and she has called upon the government to intervene to increase access of seed to smallholder farmers.
“These NGOs bring seed to us when we have nothing to plant in our fields. And for us to be assured getting the same assistance the following farming season we are obliged to sell to them as per our agreement although we do not benefit much from.
“We would have loved if the government had come in to bail us out more especially on the front of making the seed available for us and also creating a steady market which will also offer us good prices. The farmers should be the ones benefiting from their sweat not these middlemen,” said Gong’ontha.
The study also revealed the continued use by farmers of old soya bean and groundnut varieties which have been recycled for over 7 years and questions have also been asked on the policies in place to ensure that farmers access seed, information on improved agricultural research technologies in the country.
The study therefore came up with several recommendations aimed at improving the soya and groundnut added value chain to improve the marketability and quality of Soya bean and groundnut products in Malawi.
The study made recommendations which included the establishment and strengthening of existing public-private sector partnerships in the groundnut and soya bean value chains and also Establishing strong market linkages among stakeholders in the value chains and protect the farm gate prices to increase productivity.
Establishment of sustainable seed production and delivery systems through strengthening of farmer based seed production programs and encouraging private sector in seed multiplication and marketing were also some of the key recommendations from the study.
In the last decade the department of agricultural research services and its partners has generated a number of technologies in soya bean and groundnut with further packaging practices of soya bean and groundnut production to satisfy the needs of the farmers. Yet, up until now farmers remain unaware and skeptical to take full advantage of these technologies.
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