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Organisations differ on food diversification

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Felix Lombe

Farmers Union of Malawi (Fum) and the Transforming Agriculture through Diversification and Entrepreneurship (Trade) are divided in opinion on the role of smallholder farmers in the agriculture transformation agenda in the country.

In an interview, Trade National Programme Coordinator Felix Lombe said there is the need to shift agriculture production focus from small-scale subsistence farmers to medium-scale commercial oriented farmers in order to sustain the momentum for diversification.

He said, currently, the momentum for diversification is hampered by excessive focus on smallholder farmers who are not effective drivers of diversification.

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“Horizontal and vertical diversification is effectively done by medium-scale farmers because their risk appetite, especially to try new things, is high. We must re-channel our interventions to medium-scale farmers because, firstly, they have the ability to produce more and are advanced by using mechanical means of production.

“Secondly, this group has the ability to diversify because diversification is a risk and only medium-scale farmers have the ability to try new things which involve risks other than small-scale farmers whose focus is to produce food for their families,” Lombe said.

Agriculture expert Felix Jumbe concurred with Lombe, saying Malawi has for a long time focused on push strategy and on people with limited land holding capacity which has limited the diversification agenda to the staple food crop of maize because the main agenda has been food security.

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“There is a need to change agenda from food security to income security and from the push strategy to pull strategy through provision and opening up of commodity markets that would stimulate both productivity and diversification for crops with better income,” Jumbe said.

But, in a separate interview, Fum Chief Executive Officer Jaco Nyirongo said where smallholder farmers are given the right support and engaged in a profitable farming enterprise, they are able to increase productivity, diversify and commercialise.

“Government policy must be deliberate in driving agriculture diversification through investment in relevant seed systems, research and innovation, extension and advisory support to farmers, development of market infrastructure and targeted and adapted financial instruments that can spur farm level investment,” Nyirongo said.

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