Being a farmer, RafiqMuheya from Mbewa Village, Traditional Authority Mabuka in Mulanje District relies on roads to easily access nearby markets.
He says due to the geography of the area, business in the rainy season becomes slow as most roads are in bad shape and impassable.
Says Muheya: “Most of us are farmers and we survive through it. That is why we depend on the roads. If the roads are bad, we end up selling our produce at a lower rate because buyers find it hard to reach us.”
He adds that it has been years since farmers saw positive returns from their farming activities as yields were sold at lower prices.
Muheya explains that children could also not make it to school because of bad bridges that posed a threat to their lives.
Says Muheya: “We failed to educate our children and properly feed our families. We grow sugarcanes, sweet potatoes, maize and other crops but we couldn’t get that gratification when they are sold because the money was not enough to enable us develop our homes.”
Life, however, changed in 2019, when the community was chosen to be part of the Agriculture Sector Wide Approach- Support Project II (Aswap-SP II) which among others is promoting productivity and market accessibility by farmers to better their lives.
Group village head Mbewa says the project gave them the opportunity to work as a community in ensuring that their terrain roads are rehabilitated and that through the district council, bridges in the area are constructed to better standards.
He says: “Now we have better bridges and we have a committee that looks after the road. The coordination between the community and the committee has made it possible for all of us to benefit.
“My village has changed. We now have farmers who are doing wonders. Prices of our commodities are now stable and good as buyers are easily accessing the roads and they know if we don’t want to sell them right from our farms, we can easily go to the nearest market to sell.”
Muheya now rides a bicycle loaded with farm produce to the nearest ChitakaleMarket when he needs extra money to cater for household needs.
Sharing the happiness, Group village head Njombwa from Ntchisi District says his area was lucky as a tarmac road was constructed under Aswap-SP II.
Says Njombwa: “It is indeed a blessing. We never thought a tarmac road would come to us. As an area that relies on farming, this is what we have always wanted. Now mobility challenges have been reduced. Farmers go to the market as they please to sell whatever they have produced.”
Mary John, a farmer from Mitundu in Lilongwe District, also celebrates the coming of the tarmac road in her area saying it has made life easier for farmers to access Mitundu Market to sell their commodities.
She says: “The terrain here is bad and when it rains it meant no business. Crops like tomatoes would rot before they even reach the market due to bad roads. All that is history now as we are able to easily take our produce to the market.”
According to Aswap SP-II project coordinator Henry Msatilomo, giving the farmers the opportunity to easily access markets is the overall aim of the project.
He says: “We are glad that the project has indeed helped farmers to easily take their commodities to the market. This is what we want because as we aim to increase productivity, we expect that the surplus made by farmers should be taken to the market for sale. Also farmers will be able to take inputs that will enhance productivity in their areas.
“Now if roads are bad it becomes difficult and that is why we thought it wise to include the component of roads rehabilitation and construction in the project to ease mobility challenges which continue to hinder farming activities in the country.”
Msatilomo says about 77 kilometres have been upgraded to tarmac roads and that 1 000 kilometres have been rehabilitated in the 12 districts where the project is running.
“We also want to promote the devolution of the transport sector to the district councils. So we are piloting through the roads rehabilitation aspect to empower district councils to be clients of transport sector projects,” he adds.
Ministry of Agriculture director of planning Rodwell Mzondi concurs with Msatilomo that farmers fail to reach markets due to poor road networks.
He says that the rehabilitation and upgrading of the roads under Aswap SP-II is what farmers need if they are to benefit from farming.
Aswap SP-II is a $59.8 million (approximately K49 billion) project which rolled out between May 2018 and December 2021 but is now extended to June 2023, courtesy of the additional financing by the Multidonor Trust Fund.
The funders include European Union, Usaid, Norway, Ireland and the Flanders under the funds administration of the World Bank.
The project targets about 275 000 farmers in 12 districts of Mzimba, Ntchisi, Thyolo, Mulanje, Ntcheu, Dedza, Phalombe, Kasungu, Chitipa, Zomba, Lilongwe and Mchinji.