By MIKE CHIPALASA*, FAO MALAWI
From humble beginnings in 2004, a group of female smallholder farmers is now growing, thanks to an African-led initiative operating in its locality. The group is now helping learners continue with schooling, perform well and remain healthy while boosting household incomes for its members, owing to available markets offered by local schools.
In 2011, the 15-member Nalingula Producers and Marketing Cooperative in Phalombe was formed. It received a K3 million support from the Irrigation and Rural Livelihoods Agricultural Development (Irlad) project for the construction of the warehouse. Beyond that, there was no external support to build its capacity in terms of production and marketing.
Located in Naminjiwa Extension Planning Area, Nalingula cooperative produces maize, beans, pigeon peas, rice and sweet potatoes which it then supplies to Namikango and Nalingula primary school under a contract agreement with the schools.
One of its members, Mercy Alumero, 39, of Nalingula II Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kaduya in Phalombe, tells her story of doom to boom.
“I am no longer the same. I now grow maize using Sasakawa technology [a one-seed per hole planting method] and I have surplus food every year. From the proceeds of my shares in the cooperative, I am educating my two children. One wants to become a teacher and the other a mechanic,” explains Alumero, a mother of six girls and two boys.
She has received various agricultural inputs from FAO to boost productivity which has enabled her supply food items to schools and earn good profits.
In addition, she has learnt some agriculture technologies and post-harvest handling practices through the agricultural extension services provided by the District Agriculture Development Office (Dado).
Her household is no longer poor, and Alumero thanks the cooperative.
“As a cooperative, we are doing well and are now thinking of expanding to other markets, not just the schools,” explains Alumero.
She encourages other farmers, especially women, to develop an interest in cooperatives for them to benefit more from their farming.
Phalombe agribusiness development officer Humphreys Savieri says the cooperative wants to do better and more, citing a strategic business plan it has developed to help it expand its reach.
“For them to realise their plans, they need equipment and power supply to better expand to other markets. This will help promote their livelihoods,” says Savieri.
Supported by the Purchase from Africans by Africa (PAA) Africa project, the cooperative supplies food items to local schools where the World Food Programme (WFP) provides funds to schools to buy food items for a school meals programme.
On the supply side, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) supports the cooperative’s agricultural production capacity so it can continue selling food items to the schools. The cooperative is one of farmer organisations FAO is supporting in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.
It is such success stories from cooperatives such as Nalingula which inspired a three-day knowledge sharing workshop from May 5-8, 2015 in Mangochi. Participants were drawn from Malawi and Mozambique to learn from each other how the PAA project is successfully implemented.
The PAA Africa programme is a thriving example of South to South cooperation—an approach to development built on the sharing of knowledge, experiences and technology among countries in the global South.
It is a ground-breaking partnership with important lessons on how governments can procure food for public institutions, such as schools, directly from small-scale farmers, therefore stimulating the local economy.
Now in its third year, it is a regional project implemented by the governments of Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Senegal together with civil society organisations, with technical leadership and expertise from FAO and WFP.
Financial support for the project work comes from the Brazilian government and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID).
Modelled on Brazil’s achievements in fighting hunger and poverty, PAA Africa helps promote local agricultural production while also improving livelihoods and nutrition, especially among school children.
In Malawi, the project is targeting communities in Phalombe and Mangochi by leveraging the strong partnership between government, FAO and WFP. It is supporting six farmers’ associations and reaching out to over 10 000 learners in 10 schools.
FAO’s role is to help farmers produce diversified food by assisting with inputs and training them in sustainable agricultural practices adapted to the local context and post-harvest handling practices in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.
To do so, FAO has partnered with Weeffect, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) with knowledge and experience on building capacity of farmers’ organisations in Malawi
Madalo Kamzati, business development officer for Weeffect, says 5 000 pupils from five schools in Mangochi have been earmarked to benefit from the project through school meals feeding.
In Mangochi, Chibwerera Association which comprises 620 members—350 of whom are females—supplies maize, cow peas, millet, and groundnuts to five schools such as Ching’ombe and Kankhande primary schools in Mbwadzulu Extension Planning Area.
Although impact has been recorded, the PAA project has been blighted by challenges which threaten to overshadow some successes it has registered on the target communities so far.
“The main problem affecting this project is irregular disbursement of funds to schools because in some cases, farmers tend to keep their produce for a long time waiting for the schools to buy and yet there is no money. In the end, they get frustrated,” laments Kamzati.
So far, the PAA project has shown that in developing countries like Malawi the procurement of food items from small scale farmers, often among the most marginalised groups, can contribute towards government efforts to combat rural poverty.
“By the end of the day, we have to make sure that we meet the needs and expectations of the farmers, both women and men along the direction set by the government,” says Chesterman Kumwenda, FAO national project coordinator.
Once that is done, the majority of smallholder farmers such as Alumero can successfully defeat rural poverty.