By Imam Wali:
Thirty-nine-year-old Chimala Walusa sits comfortably on a rocking chair on the balcony of his iron-roofed house, seemingly gazing at the setting sun, but evidently in high spirits.
Only by talking to him does one realises that, Walusa—who comes from Chadalala Village in Balaka District—is but in deep thought; planning around, how, yet again, he can make a fortune out of cotton farming next season.
During the just-ended season, Walusa invested about K400,000 in producing close to five tonnes of the commodity from a five hectares land.
“I went home smiling”, he says, having raked in about K1.8 million from his toil.
He does not regret the day he opted for cotton as a complementary cash crop to tobacco, which he has produced for 19 years now.
“Since I joined cotton farming I have been able to construct a house, I have bought six heads of cattle and an oxcart and on top of that I pay tuition fees for my three children who are at secondary school level.
“In the past, many farmers here were producing tobacco only but that has changed as cotton farming has attracted a number of farmers,” he says, while sharing with us contacts of scores of other farmers under the Livirivi Farmers Association, to which he is an affiliate.
Livirivi is one of scores of corporatives and farmers’ groups advocating diversified farming.
In Malawi, where maize is the staple crop while tobacco remains the main cash crop, crops like cotton, rice and Soya beans are seen as the next big thing.
For instance, Malawi’s fourth export crop by value, cotton, raked in about K3.4 billion during the 2021 season according to figures from the Cotton Farmers Association of Malawi.
Figures from the Ministry of Trade have shown that the country has realised about K83 billion after exporting 157,750,680 kilogrammes (kg) of Soybeans by July 31 2021.
As a step towards enhancing diversified production, in October 2020, US the Africa Development Foundation (USADF) granted farmers under the corporative K72 million to boost production in Balaka District.
This has enabled them to set up the office, employ a manager, an accountant and an extension worker to help the farmers improve their production and diversify to cotton and Soya beans among other crops.
“Currently we are selling our soya bean to Cori company. In the past, vendors used to buy our produce at K100-K200 per kilogramme.
“But now, we are selling our Soya in large quantity at K500 per kilogramme meaning that farmers are now making profits hence ably sustaining their families,” says Brighton Mussa, Livirivi Farmers Association Vice Chairperson.
In the district, smallholder cotton farmers have lamented disease-prone and low production seeds, coupled with poor agriculture extension services and markets, among limitations to effective production.
While there is a glimmer of hope considering the new and improved variety of cotton seed on the market, many farmers are still facing challenges to access them.
Chairperson of Cotton Farmers Association of Malawi at Livirizi EPA in Balaka, Dymex Funsani, said farmers in the district sail a difficult patch in accessing better markets.
“In the past, diseases like kodikodi affected our harvests as the varieties which we were using in the past were prone to diseases. However, the new variety from India, which the government has introduced, is good but too expensive for an ordinary cotton farmer, for example 500 grams is being sold at K11,000. For one hectare, a farmer has to part ways with K23,000 where he would get 25 bails weighing 100 kilogrammes.
Funsani complained that prices of cotton have been fluctuating, a development affecting stability.
In Machinga District, farmers also have their positive tales to tell about diversified production.
Since Farmers Union of Malawi (Fum) came into the fold with new farming techniques, rice farmers under Domasi Scheme in Mpela Village, Traditional Authority Mposa, Machinga can now testify of the importance of farming.
Domasi Scheme Association Chairperson Gift Lazalo said the scheme became operational in 1972 and has seen its membership base growing significantly.
The USAID-funded project, Strengthening Inclusive Agriculture Sector Growth and Sustainable Natural Resource Governance in Malawi, is being implemented by a consortium of Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI), Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA), Fum and Civil Society Agricultural Network (Cisanet).
Cisanet Executive Director Pamela Kuwali says concepts embedded in the National Agriculture Policy translated into action.
“The policy is focusing on a number of objectives, including agricultural production, by ensuring that Malawi is producing for food sufficiency and commercialisation. Secondly, it is also looking at promoting access to markets, making sure that farmers are producing but they are also able to sell,” she said.
Malawi remains an agrarian economy with the sector seen by most experts as a sleeping giant.
The sector contributes 42 percent to the country’s gross domestic product and 81 percent to Malawi’s exports.
While other sectors like mining and tourism are also relevant in enhancing Malawi’s economy, agriculture cannot be neglected