Government has indicated that it will improve the operating environment that supports the development of sustainable cooperatives in the country, considering their contribution to the growth of the economy.
Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism, Ken Ndala said this on Tuesday in Lilongwe when he officially opened a two-day farmers’ organisations business linkages forum.
The forum brought together 150 participants comprising farmers organisations, government officials, private sector players, and donors. among others.
The participants shared insights on value-chain development, creating market linkages and the best practices to strengthen the existing agricultural value-chains in the country.
Ndala noted that given the necessary support and encouragement, a strong cooperative sector can become a catalyst for accelerated economic development in the country.
“The cooperative sector has the potential to transform the lives of the majority of economically disadvantaged sections of our people who have no access to formal employment opportunities, particularly for people living in rural areas currently pegged at 85 percent of the population,” he observed.
Speaking on behalf of farmers Pyton Ngwira of Gwiritse Cooperative at Nsalu in Lilongwe, called on government to assist them in accessing grants to supplement their capital and add value to their products.
“Lack of capital is hindering us from adding value to our farm produce because we cannot buy machines to process. Apart from that, we need to mechanise our farming activities and buy tractors for instance, which also require funds.
“Our request is for government to assist us in accessing grants which can help us boost our capital. Loans require us to repay interest on top of the capital that we get, unlike grants,” he said.
On her part, Sheila Keino, country director for African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (Afap), who organised the meeting argued that the meeting would allow farmers to work hand in hand with other stakeholders in their efforts to access farm inputs, crop protection, finance and mechanisation, among other things.
“We have brought financial institutions such as Vision Fund and FDH Bank who provide access to finance to farmers at different levels. We even have the World Bank present because we understand that access to finance is a challenge and we are trying various ways of addressing that,” she said.