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Farmers Learning From Farmers In Malawi

Source: World Food Programme - Tue, 10 Dec 2013 12:19 PM
Author: World Food Programme
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In 2013, WFP Malawi organised a study tour for smallholder farmers as part of its Purchase for Progress initiative.

As part of its direct support to farmers through the Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative, WFP organised a 2013 study tour so that farmers could learn from one of its most successful farmer organisations (FOs), Mwandama Farmer Organisation from Zomba district in southern Malawi.

Since forming in 2005 with initial support from the Millennium Village Project, Mwandama's accomplishments have been impressive. By 2009, a 2,500 MT grain bank had been completed which now stores surplus production, a small percentage of which is contributed in compensation for inputs like fertilizer. In early 2010, Mwandama first successfully sold to WFP and has since been among one of the most active and successful FOs on the P4P roster. The organisation has been awarded a total of 11 contracts amounting to nearly 750mt of commodities, earning the equivalent of roughly US$ 176,000.

With more sales and better prices than ever before, the members of Mwandama have increasingly reoriented themselves from being subsistence farmers to empowered actors in the commercial agriculture market.

Business skills

As part of Mwandama's business strategy, the members use a portion of their profits to employ a full-time warehouse manager to oversee the stored food and all related business activities of the cooperative. This was an important step for Mwandama as hiring a manager with seasoned business skills has improved the members' own knowledge of business and has better positioned their farming efforts for viable success.

"Thanks to the support from WFP through P4P, Mwandama has increased its sales, sells at better and fairer prices and now understands how to deliver food that meets globally accepted quality standards to many buyers on the market," said warehouse manager Bornwell Kaunga. 

He noted that Mwandama's first sale to WFP was the first time the smallholders were able to see the tangible benefits of working as together in a business-oriented cooperative as well as see the possibilities for a larger business model by reinvesting their earnings. 

When the P4P team arrived with the farmers, the enthusiastic group immediately began asking questions as they set off to tour the warehouse. The farmers were keen to learn how Mwandama was able to become a successful self-sufficient business, asking questions ranging from legal business questions to member expectations to leadership skills.

"The main thing I've learnt is that by working hard to improve the business part of our organisation we can improve our family situations," said Clement Mpoto, a farmer from Kaso FO in Dowa district. "We have learnt that we need to really strategize and prepare for the coming years."

Tools for success

With higher incomes, smallholders are able to reinvest their income in other complementary areas of development, such as paying for school fees, medicine and vital agricultural inputs like fertilizer, to free themselves from the cycle of poverty and hunger.

"After seeing the Mwandama model, I think it would be good to designate a certain amount of production that a member has to contribute to the FO stock in exchange for loans or inputs. This would make sure that the business moves forward as we could produce and sell more," said Mr. Mpoto. "It is very encouraging to see their success."  

By learning the tools for success and autonomy through P4P, such as post-harvest handling, marketing and management, the organisations are steadily increasing their incomes and strategically investing their earnings to improve their lives. While WFP encourages FO growth by providing the steady demand for the smallholders' surpluses, none of the progress seen today among the smallholders would be possible without their own initiative, hard work and perseverance.

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