Chrissie Bauleni, 35, is a farmer at Matikiti Village in Chiradzulu.
She raises about 300 broiler chickens for sale at Mbulumbuzi Market.
Some birds are sold to restaurants and other businesspeople around the market.
Life has not been rough for the mother of three children Dalitso, Chikondi and Tamanda as she is able to raise money to pay school fees, buy food and clothes for them.
Chickens give her manure for her garden where she grows maize, tomatoes, onions, cabbage and other crops under rain-fed and irrigation agriculture.
Bauleni says farming is a lucrative business and the demand for chickens and her farm produce is good. But like many other farmers in Malawi, she lacks capital to expand her business.
â€œI get so many orders for chickens and vegetables, but fail to meet the demand because my business is small.
â€œI have been to several financial institutions to ask for a soft loan, but I always get a cold shoulder. They say they do not finance farming because it is a risky business,â€ says Bauleni.
Since 1994 when the agriculture sector was liberalised, financial institutions have been reluctant to give loans to farmers, resulting in the closure of most farms in the country.
Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) is always worried with such developments because agriculture is the engine of the countryâ€™s economy, contributing 70 percent of its foreign exchange earnings, employing about 80 percent of the workforce and contributing about 30 percent of GDP.
Banker Eisenhower Mkaka, while admitting at the 8th FUM Annual Congress in Lilongwe that the sector cannot grow with financial injection from commercial banks, said financial institutions categorise the agriculture sector as risky.
He said most banks shun the sector because of its seasonal income and its overreliance on rain which is unpredictable and has the potential of causing the investment to crumble at one stroke.
Mkaka cited lack of collateral security and high default rate among farmers as some of the reasons banks are reluctant to deal with them.
â€œThere is also general lack of seriousness among farmers. Some of them have ended up using money to buy furniture and other non-agricultural things instead of investing in agriculture,â€ he said.
Businessperson and farmer Napoleon Dzombe agreed with Mkaka that loan repayment default rate is high among farmers and asked them to embrace farming as business.
â€œIt would be better to give farmers inputs not money. Even with that, you need to monitor closely to ensure that they do not mess up things,â€ said Dzombe.
But this did not go well with FUM president Felix Jumbe who wondered why banks are only interested in dollars from tobacco sales and not in the agriculture sector itself.
â€œMalawi economy depends on agriculture. When the policy framework was right, the sector used to contribute about 40 percent to GDP which has now slowed down to 27 percent because banks look at the sector as a risk,â€ said Jumbe.
He said most vibrant economies in the world have used agriculture as a basis for development. He blamed lack of foreign exchange on banks, saying they lack interest in the sector.
â€œThis misalignment of investments and its resultant lack of forex emanate from the risky attitude of banks towards the agriculture sector which if not checked will lead to the downfall of Malawi.
â€œOverreliance on rains or having a seasonal income should not be used as excuses for denying farmers loans. Banks need to put measures and systems to reduce risks associated with farming. In fact, there is no business that has no risk,â€ said Jumbe.
He said loan repayment default is not a problem only in the agriculture sector. â€œSo, only farmers are denied loans? Loan repayment default is because Malawi has no working systems and national identification system. Our farming collapsed in the early 1990s and ever since, there has been no efforts to design agricultural systems that deliver, except for the farm input subsidy programme.
â€œWe need systems that give confidence to investors. This is why Farmers Union is organising farmers into cooperatives at every extension planning area [EPA],â€ he said.
Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) chief executive officer Chancellor Kaferanjira when briefing journalists in Blantyre on this yearâ€™s agriculture trade fair said financial institutions should understand and respond to the needs of farmers.
Kaferapanjira said a strong agriculture sector forms a basis for a vibrant manufacturing sector.
Malawi Union of Informal Sector (Mufis) general-secretary Mwanda Chiwambala in an interview on Friday asked government to put in place policies that help farmers to access bank loans.
Minister of Agriculture Professor Peter Mwanza who also attended the FUM congress said he was aware that farmers face challenges in accessing credits and assured them that government would find ways to deal with the challenge.
Last week, Minister of Trade John Bande told One Village One Product (Ovop) cooperative that government will come up with policies to ease challenges farmers face.
â€œMany countries in the world have developed because of cooperatives and from now onwards, we will ensure that cooperatives are empowered so that they employ many people,â€ said Bande.
Bankers Association of Malawi (BAM) president William Chatsala could not comment on the issue as he was reported to be on holiday.
National Bank of Malawi spokesperson Anne Magola last week could not comment on the matter, saying she would call back later, but she did not. Indebank marketing manager Maxwell Ngâ€™ambi asked for a questionnaire last week, but he was yet to respond to it by the time we went to press.
But Mkaka said developing appropriate policies and institutional frameworks in consultation with banks can help farmers to access loans.
â€œInsurance, organiastion of marketing activities such as interlocking contracts and warehouse receipt system can also help farmers to access loans from financial institutions,â€ he said.