African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (Afap) says Malawi will benefit from a $20 million (about K15.4 billion) project currently being piloted in the country by Farmers World and Colombia University.
The project will support smallholder farmers with tailor-made fertilisers.
Afap vice-president Richard Mkandawire, in an interview on Thursday, said one of the challenges in Malawi is that the nature of fertilisers made available to smallholder farmers has been restricted for many years and has led to underproduction.
He said there is now the need to tailor-made fertilisers to suit ecological zones. So far, Afap, which is headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, has entered into partnership with Farmers World to engage 30 extension workers in demonstration plots.
Armed with a Colombia University newly-developed SoilDoc tool kit, the extension workers will be able to identify various micronutrients in the soil that might support increased productivity in agriculture, which contributes about 30 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Said Mkandawire: “We truly believe that the work of Farmers World will define a new pathway for enhancing agriculture productivity in Malawi.
“We need to explore how such an initiative can be explored further, but naturally this is a pilot project where we will draw lessons and in future we might move on to replicate this initiative.”
He said they aim to reach 6 000 smallholder farmers in Malawi and increase annual productivity by 20 percent.
“It is an important goal. If we increase productivity of these farmers by 20 percent, it means the farmers can become food secure,” he said.
The former agriculture expert from Bunda College, now a constituent of Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) said agriculture will remain Malawi’s primary sector and called for massive investment in irrigation and the Greenbelt Initiative as the two could spur revival and growth of the sector.
“Deliberate policies should be put in place to support agriculture, especially increasing funding to the Greenbelt Initiative as it has the potential to transform rural economies,” he said.
The pilot project to boost smallholder farmers is also being implemented in West Africa, where Afap’s West Africa regional director Peirre Brunache Jnr said there are similar challenges that farmers in Malawi face in terms of not getting the right fertilisers from input suppliers.
“The role of the private sector, first and foremost, is to make sure that the farmer gets the right and high quality fertiliser and high quality seeds, but for some reason smallholder farmers are not getting these; hence, production has been declining over the years.
“If yields are not increasing, the farmer is not only able to feed his family, but cannot afford to buy seed and fertiliser the following year. It is, therefore, highly critical that governments and private sector ensure that fertilisers that are supplied to farmers are of highest quality and meet standards and are affordable,” he said.
Brunanche said fertiliser being a political commodity, African governments must ensure that they have policies that can support enforcement of quality. n