He spent millions of kwacha to fly Malawians to the United States of America in January this year where they toured farming cooperatives. The farmers got invigorated that cooperative farming is the way to go if Malawi is to move up the economic ladder.
Accomplished farmer and philanthropist Napoleon Dzombeâ€™s aim was for Malawiâ€™s farmers to see for themselves the benefits of a cooperative.
â€œFive farmers visited the headquarters of a cooperative in Alabama, US, where they learnt that cooperatives act as farmersâ€™ mother body where they can get resources such as finances, farm inputs and also practice improved farming methods,â€ says Dzombe.
On their return, the group formed Mtalimanja Holdings in Nkhotakota, where 7 000 farmers have registered in T/As Malengachanzi and Mwadzama. They have also bought a rice mill that will be producing 200 metric tonnes of rice a day.
This is part of history of the development of an agriculture cooperative in Nkhotakota Districtâ€™s Mpamantha area.
â€œMy vision is to bring together rich and poor people so that they combine their abilities and help each other and also develop the country,â€ says Dzombe, who expressed adoration at how the US cooperatives have benefited Americans.
â€œWhile there, we toured cooperative societies where farmers work together and do business. We liked the idea and we want to implement it at home,â€ Dzombe explains the genesis of Mpamantha Agriculture Cooperative.
He is not the only one supporting the idea. Experts such as Felix Jumbe also feel cooperative farming in Malawi is the way to go. Jumbe is an accomplished farmer recognised locally as well as abroad.
In Malawi, he is president of Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) while in the region, he is president of Southern Africa Confederation of Agricultural Unions. On continental level, he is vice-president for Pan-African Farmers Organisation.
Beyond Africa, Jumbe says: â€œI am in the Advisory Council of the G8 and African Union and New Economic Partnership for Development (Nepad). I represent African farmers.â€
To reach such levels, Jumbe attributes his success partly to the fruits of cooperative farming.
â€œAs FUM, we want every village to have a cooperative. In the past, we used to have farmers clubs and they were helpful. For example, I got my school fees through farmersâ€™ club money,â€ he says.
He gives an example of how farming was lucrative during the late Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda era and how its contribution to the economy has slumped of late.
â€œThis shows agriculture is nosediving,â€ he says.
He slams the current overreliance on government-run and donor-funded Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), saying it only benefits individual farmers in a short term, but encourages reliance on handouts.
â€œI want to see you farmers going to meetings on a motorcycle. I was surprised to see farmers in South Africa going to a meeting in aircrafts. In Zambia, they were in 4×4 vehicles, in Mozambique, they were on motorcycles. I also want you to develop,â€ he tells a group of chiefs in Nkhotakota.
The chiefs were sensitised to the concept of cooperatives so that they make a success of the Mpamantha Cooperative.
He gives an example of an area where the chiefs come from, saying Dr. Banda used to run Chamwavi Rice Scheme, had a rice milling factory there and the scheme would export rice to countries such as Zimbabwe.
He bemoans the sorry status of the countryâ€™s agricultural methods, which, he says, are ailing because of overreliance on â€œprimitive â€œand â€œweakâ€ tools.
â€œWe are relying on a hand hoe. This economy is as weak as a hand hoe and the weakest link of our economy is the hand hoe,â€ says Jumbe, who wishes the country invested in mechanised farming to strengthen the agricultural sector.
In fact, this is one of the major challenges that farmers mention. The others include transport, tractors and irrigation equipment for mechanised farming.
He also quashes the mentality of producing for food security, saying: â€œWe should live beyond promoting food security. We should talk of income security. Let us not promote primitive life.â€
Another accomplished Malawian agriculture expert, Dr. David Kamchacha, an international consultant, also backs cooperatives as a solution to the countryâ€™s economic challenges.Â
Dr. Kamchacha is also working on setting up the Mtalimanja Agriculture Cooperative in T/A Mwadzama, which he said will be involved in both crops and livestock production.
â€œAs we talk, over one billion people worldwide are hungry due to reduced production and rising food prices,â€ says Kamchacha.
Group Village Head Chopela of Nkhotakota recalls how cooperatives were a success during the Kamuzu era.
â€œThings were better then. We had farmersâ€™ clubs, cooperatives and we produced agricultural products better than we are doing now,â€ he says and vows to stick to Mpamantha Cooperative.
Esau Mwendo of World Vision International Malawi office says one thing that erodes gains made in agriculture is the appetite for quick cash.
â€œThe problem with most of us is that we want to see that once we sell our goods, we quickly go and drink tea, marry many wives. This is why you rush to sell the products to vendors because you are itching for quick money,â€ Mwendo says.
He also says most small farmers are poor because they think of producing to eat first, and sell the remainder.
â€œBecause of such thinking, they take care of the crops from growing to harvesting only and forget processing and value adding,â€ he says.
One of the challenges farming in Malawi faces is lack of access to markets. But Modie Maliro, planning and research executive at Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (MITC), says markets are not a problem.
â€œIf the farmers get organised into cooperatives, MITC is there to link them with markets both locally and outside,â€ she explains.
Maliro commends the people of Mpamantha for forming a cooperative, which will help thousands of families in the area.