Substantial investments in education and training are critical to introduce subsistence farmers into value chains for them to take farming as business, according to a representative of the Mchinji Association of Smallholder Farmers (Masfa).
“Capacity building is [also] essential for them to start producing for the market by meeting requisite quality and safety standards,” said Dyborn Chibonga, a Masfa representative who is also chief executive officer of National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (Nasfam).
He said the work is often hampered by organisations that promise freebies and politicians who want to ‘buy votes’ through promises of free inputs, especially in election years
Chibonga’s sentiments are contained in a statement made at a recent Fairtrade certified producers meeting at the Africa Fairtrade Convention in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia themed ‘Equal trade, equal development’.
Masfa, one of the country’s Fairtrade producers, was established over a decade ago with support from Nasfam and brings together more than 200 local groundnut farmers to improve market access and prices, share expertise and give the farmers a collective voice.
In 2007, the association became a shareholder of Liberation Food CIC, a UK-based nut company which is part-owned by the producers of the peanuts, cashews and Brazil nuts that it markets.
Chibonga noted that in entering Fairtrade markets, smallholders need to be encouraged to produce adequate volumes of quality crops to meet the Fairtrade audit and certification fees.
“Masfa has been through a lot of growth and development since its incorporation in 2003. When it started producing Fairtrade groundnuts in 2004, as diversification crop from overdependence on tobacco and maize, a lot of investments were made to get the membership understand that this was for the long haul,” he said.
Fairtrade is an organised social movement that aims to help producers in developing countries such as Malawi to make better trading conditions and promote sustainability and this movement entails the payment of a higher price to exporters (premium) focusing on export from developing countries to developed countries.
Chibonga observed that over the years, Masfa premium committee decided that Fairtrade premiums earned should help the association to improve their market access, build a guardian shelter at the Mchinji District Hospital and buy centres for improved trading and storage at local level.
But he said the work has been affected along the way by some people joining the association with hopes of getting free inputs and members selling their relations’ produce through the ‘back door.’
“Less diligence by committees at buying centres has allowed groundnuts with high Aflatoxin levels to enter into the system. Quality of membership and produce is affected by these practices,” worried Chibonga.
He said competition and commodity price instability hugely affects management of local market activities in terms of quality, pricing, member loyalty and monitoring resulting in marketing information distortion.