Agriculture experts have called for the elimination of structural challenges in the agricultural sector to ensure that farming is a viable enterprise and that smallholder farmers have access to markets.
The experts expressed the sentiments on Thursday in Lilongwe during the Southern African Farmers’ Forum held under the theme Elevating Farmers Voices for Agriculture Transformation organised by the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) and its partners.
Farmers Union of Malawi head of agribusiness services Derrick Kapolo said solving the problem of access to markets among smallholder farmers could facilitate sustainable agriculture.
“If we can solve the issue of access to markets as among serious challenges for smallholder farmers, then our agriculture would begin to become more sustainable,” he said.
Kapolo said farmers are producing good quantities, but are frustrated by the lack of markets.
On his part, Agra regional head of southern Africa Dyborn Chibonga said the southern African region continues to grapple with recurrent climate shocks, including droughts, floods, pests, diseases and food insecurity.
He said Covid-19 has exposed the inherent fragility of food systems, observing that currently, the pandemic is pushing millions of people into malnutrition while farmers see their choices diminished and opportunities lost.
“These shocks have emphasised the need for food systems that are equitable, inclusive, sustainable, resilient and capable of meeting the global challenge of feeding growing global populations within a changing climate,” he said.
Agra president Agnes Kalibata pledged continued elevation of farmers’ voices in discussions around increased agricultural productivity and taking farming as a business.
She said farmers in the region are hard-working but are among the poorest.
Ministry of Trade assistant director of trade Diamond Chikhasu said people should understand that looking for markets individually becomes a challenge because the quantities that may be required on the market are far below one’s production capacity.
“We encourage farmers to be in groups so that they can have a better consolidation of their produce that can fetch good prices on the market,” he said.
Dedza-based farmer, Fection Mistoni decried the lack of extension services and ready markets for farm produce, saying what they invest is more than what they earn because of the lack of markets and poor prices.
The experts and farmers agreed that lack of access to markets, affordable inputs, lack of extension services and absence of information for external markets are among the challenges smallholder farmers face.