Experts have urged authorities to address smallholder farmers’ triple crisis of land, productivity and commercialisation for Malawi to succeed on the agriculture commercialisation drive, an important pillar of the Malawi 2063 Agenda (MW2063).
It follows revelations by a working paper from Agriculture Policy Research Africa (Apra) done by, among others, Professor Blessings Chinsinga which shows that the current commercilisation drive needs serious reforms on land, production and markets to be fruitful.
The first pillar of the MW2063 is agriculture productivity and commercialisation and it focuses on agriculture diversification, irrigation development, agriculture inputs, mechanisation and structured markets.
But Chinsinga said in an interview, that while the current system is able to see farmers meet markets, it is only for survival, as production remains low as through the study, farmers observed between 2007 and 2018, have had little changes in their lives.
The report shows that land tenure security remains uncertain due to an unsettled legislative framework while productivity levels of various crops have remained far below the expected thresholds due to the combination of limited ability to access productivity enhancing inputs–especially seed and fertiliser–and worsening climatic conditions.
Said Chinsinga: “No matter how much resources we put into the commercialisation drive, it will not succeed without the necessary reforms. We have looked at farmers who were engaged in 2007 and we went back to them in 2018, but results are showing that they have not commercialised.
“If implementation of the first pillar in the MW2063 is to work, there is need for land reforms. From our results, there is a need to engage in some land consolidation because the current fragmented piece of land cannot render farmers to commercial agriculture which requires use of machinery, modern labour and productivity enhancing inputs.”
On his part, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources agriculture economist Horace Phiri said farmers need to adopt good practices and adopt modern inputs, but the challenge is affordability.
He said: “For you to plant a hactare of soya, you need 90 kilogrammes of seed and that costs over K100 000, but can our farmers afford that? So, productive inputs have to be available, accessible and affordable. Such affordability is only for maize and tobacco.”
On the marketing side, since the collapse of the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) as a reliable marketing outlet, the paper observes that smallholder farmers find it difficult to sell their produce at a profit.
Farmers Union of Malawi president Frighton Njolomole urged Admarc to play its role of providing readily available market for farmers.
He said: “Admarc should provide the readily available market to farmers and government should promote structured trading of strategic agricultural commodities.”