Recently, Executive Director for Land O’Lakes Venture37, John Ellenberger, was in Malawi meeting with stakeholders in the agriculture sector to enhance effective partnerships, among others. Land O’Lakes Venture37 is a leading global agricultural development organisation with offices across the world. Our contributor MIKE CHIPALASA had a chat with him to learn more about his visit and other matters Excerpts:
What’s the purpose of your visit to Malawi?
I came to Malawi to do some work planning with the Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI) who is our partner in the CAT – The Centre for Agricultural Transformation. Also, while here, I have been meeting with leaders of Cooperative Development Activity 4 (CD4) programme in Malawi, which is one of our programmes funded by USAID in Washington D.C. Our discussions have focused on helping agricultural cooperatives thrive in doing a number of different points around governance, management, leadership and a number of other areas and so, really, it’s been very rewarding.
You visited CAT’s Smart Farms at Bunda and NRC campuses located at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR). What’s your impression of the work you saw there?
Having last been in Malawi in 2019, it is very rewarding to see the work that the CAT team here has done both at Bunda and NRC campuses to see how what started as an idea of what a Smart Farm could look like is now turning into reality, especially at Bunda where the crops are advanced and are more ready to demonstrate some of the different technologies that we are promoting through the work of the CAT. The mission of the CAT is to help farmers become less dependent on tobacco farming to find newer, more high value and attractive crop to diversify into.
Talking about climate change, how can we help smallholder farmers in Malawi withstand climatic disasters such as Cyclone Ana which has destroyed vast crop fields lately?
I think that one area which the CAT and the country can help with is really around diversification or helping farmers to find crops that are more diversified, more resilient to adverse climate conditions and changes. This is important because they give the smallholder farmers a better chance at being able to have a saleable crop, a profitable income despite the challenges of climate change. And I think that through our partners, there must be deliberate efforts to have a range of products and approaches that are oriented towards climate change mitigation and adaptation to help smallholder farmers thrive despite the challenges that they face. Already, this is what the CAT is doing at the Smart Farms to show that this is doable and possible.
You just mentioned the issue of partnerships. Why does it matter?
I think partners are the key to what we are doing as an organisation and the same applies to many other organisations in Malawi. For us as Land O’Lakes Venture37, we have a range of partners like private sector partners, commercial entities that are in business to try to serve farmers. We also work through a consortium of four partners: namely, Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST), Stellenbosch University, University of Minnesota, with Land O’Lakes Venture 37 as the lead partner, with support from the Foundation for a Smoke Free World/ Agricultural Transformational Initiative (ATI). Our partnership also extends to LUANAR who have generously given us 70 hectares of land for our work. Besides, the Government of Malawi is also our key and strategic partner in terms of policy and regulation in the agriculture sector. I think the idea of partners is important because of what they bring in and what they can take out.
What’s your message to the Government of Malawi in this case?
First of all, I would like to say thank you to the Government of Malawi for the enormous support towards the work we are doing in the CAT. We want to encourage that spirit of partnerships to continue, and we appreciate the support the government is giving to the CAT because I think that we are all in the same challenge here which is how do we help Malawi become a more self-sufficient thriving country. And, with agriculture being so important to the success of the country, finding new ways to help smallholder farmers to be successful is critical. We can do that with effective government participation we have received so far and which we look forward to continuing.
In the context of the Malawi 2063, what do we need as a country to drive the agricultural transformation agenda?
The first thing is we have got to continue to do the kind of work we are doing at the CAT, which is finding effective partnerships of all types. I think finding ways to provide the needed financing to allow farmers make a change in what they are doing so that they become effectively diversified agricultural nation is key. This is where the private sector comes in through effective partnerships. For the CAT, we have seen that already through Standard Bank plc which has partnered with us on innovation programmes for the youth in tertiary institutions, particularly at MUST and LUANAR. We hope other private sector organisations can emulate the example of Standard Bank plc so that together we help transform the agricultural sector and achieve the intended gains as encapsulated in the Malawi 2063. It’s a tall order but I think there is nothing important to the future of Malawi than helping this agricultural transformation succeed.
And your last words?
I am very excited about what we will be doing both in the CAT programme in 2022 and the work Land O’Lakes Venture37 is doing with USAID and the Cooperative Development Programme in Malawi. It’s always a pleasure to come to this country and I look forward to the next visit.