Strides towards diversification
Malawi is a country whose pillows of comfort are on agriculture, with tobacco as the main commercial crop and maize as a staple food.
Although the country’s economy is framed this way, most farmers practice rain-fed agriculture.
The rainfall season in Malawi starts from November up to April under normal circumstances then the selling season begins, which mostly ends around July.
This circle forces most agro-dealers ply their trade at the beginning of the the other farming season.
It is the off season that drags the business person’s economic development as he or she spends the money made when the business was at its peak.
It is against this background that the African Institute for Corporate Citizenship introduced the Agribusiness Acceleration Initiative (AAI) to mentor agro-dealers on how to make money all year long.
Under the AAI initiative, the organisation reached out to the country’s three regions, mentoring farmers approach to diversification and how they can make business all year long without taking a break.
The programme is aimed at mentoring agro-dealers on expanding earnings.
Target areas include development of technical, marketing, business and financial management skills and equipping SMEs on best ways to accessing credit.
One of the beneficiaries is Pius Nyirenda, who sales pesticides in Limbe Township in the Blantyre.
Nyirenda says previously he was idle during off-season.
He said through AAI project, he has acquired knowledge on earning beyond limited streams.
“I learnt that after selling pesticides, I can also be spraying,” Nyirenda explained.
Another beneficiary is Elias Mpumila of Emmanuel Investment Agro-dealers and sells farm inputs in Kasungu district.
His business was doing well but could not develop as desired until he attended an AAI training.
Mpumila provides farmers in his catchment area with organic manure. And during the 2019/20 season, he managed to sell 1, 420 bags of 50kgs which gave him another capital to start providing sprayer services to farmers.
AICC discovered that most agro-dealers fail to grow their businesses due to poor record keeping.
The organisation therefore, aims at empowering women who play a crucial role in the agricultural production chain.
The institution, however, notes women’s participation in the industry remains limited.
One of such women is Tikumbuke Nkhwazi who owns a seed and pesticides shop.
“I have been doing this business for long but it was not growing. I can now tell that the business has highly grown with the skills I got from AICC,” she says.
AICC Communications Officer, Geoffrey Pumbwa, said most farmers have capability to grow their businesses but lack skills.
He says pilot phase of the project has proven effective.
“We have seen a huge impact as a lot of SMEs have been able to formalise their businesses.
“We also help them to register their businesses with chemicals board as well as the registrar general and to comply with MRA (Malawi Revenue Authority) so that other large scale businesses can identify them as distributors and be able to do businesses in accordance with the law,” he says.
The project is being implemented in Chikwawa, Blantyre, Zomba, Kasungu, Dedza, Mzuzu, Karonga and Rumphi districts.
Pumbwa says the project will expand to other districts, targeting over 150 agro dealers.
Farmers Union of Malawi Director of Programme Development and Learning, Jacob Nyirongo, says more needs to be done to empower commercial farmers.
“Access to finance for investment in Malawi is a challenge and agro-dealers are not an exception. We therefore, ask government or the Reserve Bank of Malawi to come in and put deliberate measures to spur growth,” Nyirongo said.
Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security spokesperson, Prescilla Mateyu believes agro-dealers need special protection.
“Government is encouraging agro-dealers to seek financing opportunities within government projects such as Agricom that aim at enhancing the whole agricultural value chain,” Mateyu advised.
Justin Mkweu is a fast growing reporter who currently works with Times Group on the business desk.
He is however flexible as he also writes about current affairs and national issues.