By Pauline Mbukwa:
Noella Kalonga, a farmer in Mitundu, Lilongwe, was among several others who were struggling to find markets for their groundnuts.
She belongs to Nakungubwi Cooperative in Mdindo Village, Traditional Authority Chiseka, in whose jurisdiction Mitundu lies.
“We could grow groundnuts in abundance but failed to find reliable markets after harvesting the crop. We were forced to sell our groundnuts to vendors who offered very low prices,” Kalonga says.
In Malawi, groundnut is among the most important legume crops predominantly grown by smallholder farmers who take up 93 percent of total production.
The crop also holds significant economic importance with approximately 40 percent total production marketed.
Malawi was once recorded as one of the major groundnuts-producing countries in the world with annual exports of about 50,000 metric tonnes [mt] until the 1980s.
Agriculture economics experts state that the crop’s value chain has the potential to serve as a leading source of income from both domestic and export trade.
But despite its importance, groundnut’s value chain continues to meet a number of challenges that hinder its progress.
Among the challenges are inadequate access to quality seed by farmers, poor agricultural production practices, poor storage and poor technical response to aflatoxins.
Lack of a well organised marketing system that would link smallholder farmers while also helping them to yield produce that could compete at the international market is also there.
“For us, there is a ready market and we are determined to produce enough yield because we know where to take it even before we till our land,” Kalonga says.
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), with funding from the United Nations Development Programme, is implementing a project dubbed ‘Sustainable Agriculture Production and Marketing for Rural Transformation’ aimed at building the resilience of the groundnut value chain.
The initiative is working with 20,000 farmers—12,000 women and 8,000 men—by giving them access to agriculture extension services and modern practices.
The farmers, one of whom is Kalonga, are from Lilongwe, Kasungu, Mchinji, Mzimba, Dedza and Rumphi districts.
Agra is implementing the project in collaboration with the African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (Afap), off-takers Milele Agro- Processing and Fortune Gardens and Agro-Input Suppliers Limited.
“We think of the market first before production, in terms of the variety and quantities demanded on the market.
“Not only do we buy groundnuts from the farmers, we also provide extension services, through private extension workers, from value chain selection through production to harvesting,” Milele Agro-Processing Malawi Managing Director, Gloria Phekani, explains.
Phekani adds that the company does all this to enhance the quality of groundnuts so that they are fit for export.
“We also focus on aflatoxin management, being the major challenge with groundnuts in Malawi hindering export markets,” she says.
Nakungubwi is among cooperatives working with Milele.
From their last harvest, the group sold 50mt to the agro-processing firm which works hand in hand with a groundnut processing factory in South Africa, which has a capacity of 26,000mt.
Milele is reaching out to over 10,000 farmers in Malawi by providing them with competitive market prices in groundnut value chain and has over 37,000 farmers when other value chains are brought into the equation.
Mary Chikumbe, 45, who started growing groundnuts in 2016, used to plant in a single row but changed to two rows per ridge after receiving advice from Milele through local extension workers called community agribusiness advisers.
The new method increased her groundnuts yield from eight 50-kilogramme (kg) bags in 2019-20 to 25 50kg bags in the 2021-22 season, on the same piece of land.
“I sold my groundnuts to Milele at K1,000 per kg and I managed to renovate my house which was in a poor condition. I also paid school fees for my child who is now in form four.
“My dream is to buy more land on which to build another house which I can rent out and be generating more income from it,” Chikumbe says.
Agra Malawi Country Manager Sophie Chitedze says the availability of firms like Milele Agro- Processing Malawi Limited is a great opportunity for farmers in Malawi.
Chitedze encourages the farmers to remain in cooperatives “because they have more bargaining power for prices when they sell their farm produce as a group”.
“Our new strategy for 2023-30 will focus on creating markets and increasing access to finance for farmers.
“We are impressed with the uptake of improved technologies, but we have also noted that there is a need for structured markets. Agra will work with stakeholders to address the challenges,” Chitedze says.