James Jonasi, 25, has no kind words for poverty. He says he has seen and felt what it means to be poor.
“Apart from lacking basic necessities, people do not respect you when you are poor. I have been poor to the extent of lacking food in my home, hence I was the centre of mockery and a laughing stock in my village. Although I am not rich now but my life is better than it used to be in the past,” says Jonasi, who comes from Guzani Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mkanda in Mchinji.
Jonasi, who is married and has three children, can indeed now afford a smile following his involvement in a project which is being implemented by National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (Nasfam).
Nasfam is using its Kawerawera Farm in Mchinji to uplift lives of surrounding farmers. The organisation allows the farmers to grow soy bean and groundnuts while learning various modern agriculture skills.
Jonasi being one of the farmers in the project has been able to sustain his life by earning money after selling his harvests.
Another farmer, 29-year-old Dewas i Banda, f rom Mkulumimba Village, T/A Kazyozyo in the district says she has improved her life through the project as well.
“Last growing season, I harvested eight bags of soy bean. This year, I expect to harvest 12 bags. When I sold the eight bags last year, I earned about K223,000. I used this money to buy five bags of maize, goats and rent a piece of land on which I have cultivated maize this growing season,” she says.
The two farmers are some of the beneficiaries of Nasfam’s project Promotion of Smallholder Farmer Linkages to Agro- Processors through the Anchor Farm Model.
About 85 percent of Malawians live in rural area and most of them are from smallholder families. Despite agriculture being the mainstay of the economy, many smallholders fail to move above subsistence farming.
They lack access to inputs and training and access to reliable markets for their crops. Providing these things is expensive due to the limited infrastructure in rural areas. Training smallholders is costly due to the distances involved. And because of small and fragmented field sizes, the technologies smallholders can use are limited.
Nasfam Chief Executive Officer Dyson Chibonga says it was from this background that the organisation started the project.
“The farm model allows farmers to really work together. They can enjoy many of the benefits of commercial farming techniques but still as smallholders. They can effectively have access to tractors for ripping their land, access to inputs because recovery is ensured, access to extension services because rather than a field officer needing a motorcycle to visit remote locations, a qualified individual can simply review all the fields quickly even from a bicycle. Farmers can engage in things like seed production and access to better markets, which is not easily possible in normal smallholder settings,” he says.
Chibonga says the overall objectives of the project are to support implementation of the Malawi National Export Strategy to increase competitiveness of the Malawian value-added products, especially oil seed products for exports through agro-processing special economic zones to the Nacala Corridor and Sadc/Comesa markets as well as to strengthen marketing linkages of oil-seed smallholder farmers to anchor farmers and agro-processors.
Farm Manager Cosmas Kafwafwa says they provide extension services to the farmers as well as provide inputs to boost production.
“We don’t make ridges on this farm, hence we use the tractor to till the land. The farmers don’t pay upfront. The tractor owners charge K25,000 per hectare and this is recovered at the end of the season which usually does not exceed K23,000,” he says.
He says the organisation also gives 30 kilogrammes (kg) of basic soy bean seed on loan. When the farmer harvests, he or she pays back 75kg of certified seed.
“The farmers are divided into in-growers and out-growers. In-growers are the ones that cultivate on Nasfam’s Kawerawera Farm while the latter comprises the farmers that cultivate in their own land outside the farm but are supervised and assisted with some inputs by Nasfam.
“At the end of the project, Nasfam wants to ensure increased agro-processed exports of oil seed products primarily to Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and some Comesa members (along Nacala Corridor); improved smallholder access to markets through development of smallholder farmer activities in the proposed two anchor farms,” he says.
Project report indicates that the project beneficiaries have produced 462.83 metric tonnes (MT) of oil seeds of which 342.49MT were marketed through a community-led market centre. The market centres were strategically located within the vicinity of the farmers to enhance easy access for farmers. To date, 95.98MT of oil seeds have been exported to Zambia and Botswana. As a result, of this market system arrangement, farmers have earned close to twice their income by selling through formal markets compared to parallel markets.
“Specifically, farmers earned an average price of K577/kg for groundnuts and K405/kg for soya beans compared to other farmers that sold to parallel markets where the average prices were $K285/kg and K300/kg for groundnuts and soya beans respectively. A total of 3,637 farmers have benefited from the project to date,” reads the project report.
Kafwafwa says the project has not only benefited the farmers but also the organisation because of a number of lessons it has learnt.
“Through this project, we have learnt that the participation of farmers in price negotiations has established a mutual relationship between buyers and farmers. Buyers purchase high-quality grain commodity at competitive prices from farmers. Furthermore, we have learnt that farmers have access to quality seed and a formal market through agro processors. This has reduced anxiety among farmers who initially grew seed without proper marketing structures,” he says.
However, the challenges have not spared Nasfam on its efforts in the project.
One of the challenges that the project faces is decline in the number of out-grower farmers.
“Last year, loan non-payment was at 61 percent for soya bean and 21 percent for groundnuts. This made us tighten some conditions. For example, Nasfam introduced collateral for farmers. We wanted them to pay K7,500 advance as one way of showing their commitment in the activities. This money was a fixed deposit for the farmers’ club. However, this frustrated some farmers who moved out of the project, hence reducing the number of total out-growers,” Kafwafwa says.
But Jonasi and Banda say even if the project comes to an end, they will continue with various agricultural concepts they have learned.
Chibonga says Nasfam has more land in Kasungu and in Mbalachanda and wants to expand this concept. However, funding is needed to expand operations. Once fully set up, the aim is to run such farms on a self-sustaining basis, using donor support only for initial set-up and expansion.