Our trip to Malawi (continued)

On Sunday we stayed in the capitol of Malawi and joint a bilingual service in the local Presbyterian Church.  The African singing was touching heart and mind and appealed very much to the local feel. Next day we prepared for a four hours trip by bus to Blantyre in the south of Malawi, where we met with Wim van den Bos, project board member representing the users.

Wim is working for Oikonomos Foundation Malawi (OFM), who initiated the smallholder paprika production and marketing programme in 2006.  We discussed the travel plan for the week to get as much out of it for our project deliverables and our recommendations to the project board. Together with Wim and Alex, his local district coordinator, we visited a small farmer group, who were growing the high value crop paprika. Without having possiblities of irrigation, the crop will grow during the winter (or rain) season, planting in December and harvesting in May. As maize is the Malawian farmers’ most important agricultural food product, they are also trained to grow the cash crops. However the three key success factors are education, education and education. This is taken care of by extension workers like Alex. Another important issue is getting sufficient fertiliser and chemicals. If fertiliser is applied in the right way, the yield may triple and  subsequently the income will increase. Another issue is that farmers are not always aware of availability due to a lack of communication. However having fertiliser available is depending on the government policy and farmers being able to pay the deposit to the Malawi Rural Financing Company to get the funding. Repayment of loan by the individual farmer has proven to be an issue since borrower identification was not easy. Also traders paid farmers for their harvest in cash, but farmers easily forgot to repay the lender (often a non government organisation).
 The smallholder farmers are encouraged to organise themselves in a centralised farmers group with smaller groups in the area, each one supervised by a senior farmer, locally called spokesman or chief. Although not the level of a formal (officially registered) cooperation yet, it could be the first step a long road to get the farmers properly organisised and develop into an association and memberships. If established, benefits from combined purchasing, marketing and communication could be achieved.

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The next day we visited two farmer groups in Zomba district, north of Blantyre. The first group, man and women mixed, had organised themselves into a formal (officially registered) association. The path of organising from individual farmer into clubs and into association took a number of years. The almost 600 members of the association did already benefit from the membership structure by combined selling activities and guaranteed repayment of loans among the members. The formal structure existed of a chairman, a secretary, a treasurer and about five general members. The second group, women only, had organised themselves into a formal (officially registered) cooperation, so one step further  than the association. The 300 women were benefiting from the cooperation structure and were doing very well. They were proud to repay their three year loan amounting more than 2.3 Million Malawi Kwatcha in full this year. Upon leaving we were asked to write the purpose of our visit in their guestbook. The farmers’ problems discussed in Zomba district were the same as we heard before. We felt both groups were in a better shape, since they have organised themselves with the objective to reduce poverty. They have set up an access to inputs for agricultural activities, getting fertiliser, seeds and chemicals to be distributed among the members.  Their goals are to increase the number of members, creating business access for their families and profit for their children. In conclusion of the last two days: throughout the country lots of local smallholder farmers’ initiatives are taken place to overcome poverty. It gives us the challenge to continue our project and deliver accordingly.

The next day we traveled all day from Zomba to Mzuzu in the north of Malawi.
Gerard Adriaanse, Rob Jonkman, Henk Keizer, Gerard van Kilsdonk en Robert Mares.

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