Smallholder farmers are now able to grow crops, sell them at a good price and make a decent living which has seen their lives transformed with the help of Saioma, Agra and their consortiums. MOREBLESSINGS GOGODUS writes.
At every corner of the country, hunger is visible. Mothers and fathers sit helplessly as they watch their children starve. While in some parts of the country the maize crop is being swept away by floods in the field; it is drying out to effects of drought in others.
Things have changed drastically from the time families had abundant harvests of maize to harvesting less than a 50 kilogramme (kg) bag of maize.
All this has been caused by climate change. Although most see hopelessness in the current food situation, some organisations have found ways to help small-scale farmers produce better yield.
A three-year initiative to strengthen market access for small holder farmers in Malawi, Kenya and Zambia was implemented through the Strengthening Agriculture Input and Output Markets in Africa (Saioma) by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), with support of a consortium of country-based implementing partners in 2013.
Through this, small-scale farmers such as Ned Konala of Mponda Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mkanda in Mulanje, have a sweet tale to tell.
Konala, who grows sweet potato on his Nankhwali Farm, is also into seed multiplication through a United States Agency for International Development (USAid) initiative called Scaling Seeds and Technologies Partnership (SSTP).
Konala left his job as a forestry assistant in 1997, opting for farming. Most people thought he was crazy.
“I don’t regret resigning from my previous employment. Agra and other organisations involved have provided me with knowledge and skills,” says Konala.
He says his farming business is doing better after joining Saioma.
Similarly, Margaret Liwawala, a farmer from Khajavo Village, T/A Mabuka in Mulanje, says in the past she never saw any profit from her toil, but that changed when she joined Saioma.
“Right now I can tell you that my crop business is doing much better than it has ever been. From last year up until now, my household is doing better financially,” Liwawala says, adding she has since built a bigger house for her family.
Konala, on the other hand, has been able to grow his farming business. He now has 11 hectares and has bought a car.
Liwawala and Konala are just two of the 30 000 farming households targeted by the project expected to end in September this year. So far, 22 000 farmers have been reached through this project.
Apart from Mulanje, the project is being implemented in Machinga, Balaka, Mangochi, Phalombe and Zomba. National Smallholders Farmers Association of Malawi (Nasfam), Agriculture Commodity Exchange for Africa (ACE), Rural Marketing Development Trust (Rumark) and Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) are the four consortiums involved in the project that is being headed by Saioma.
Through Rural Market Development Trust, small agro-dealers have been trained and mentored in business management, and technical skills to help increase access to agricultural inputs in targeted districts. Smallholder farmers through ACE have been linked to structured trade.
The beneficiary farmer cooperatives have taken on initiatives to address issues in their communities through the cooperatives. For example, Khajavo Cooperative in Mulanje has built a private secondary school in their community with the money they make from their crop sales.
Khajavo Cooperative vice-chairperson Kennedy Scott said the aim was to help more youths get educated.
“We do not have any external assistance in the running of this school. All 11 teachers at the school are all paid by Khajavo Cooperative,” said Scott.
In T/A Chikweo’s area in Machinga, Khamalathu Cooperative members have established youth clubs which are educating the youth about HIV and Aids.
Lisnet Aubi, a member of Khamalathu Cooperative, said the group wants the youth to learn about farming.
“We want them to be able to help themselves rather than cause trouble and do things that will bring shame on their families,” says Aubi.
As the project nears its end, Agra country coordinator Geoffrey Kananji believes the best way to do so is to show the benefits of technologies that have been introduced through this project.
“The Ministry of Agriculture should explore alternative ways of ensuring that these projects are sustainable,” he says.
Saioma group leader Anthony Ngosi says they have been working closely with government and before the project winds up, they will hand over to government to ensure sustainability.
He hailed beneficiary farmers, saying they are willing to work together.
“But there is need for storage facilities because most commodities are perishing because of poor storage,” said Ngosi.
The project, worth $2 million (about K1.3 billion), has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through USAid.