Susan Chimbato: Pigeon pea farmer

When I got widowed in 2011, I quickly realised the need for self-reliance, begins Susan Chimbayo Chairman of the Nandolo (Pigeon pea) Farmers Association of Malawi.

Having lost the bread winner in the family, she knew the reins were in her hands. Lucky for her she says all her children were all grown.

Before her husband passed away, Susan was into small scale farming and businesses, but these alone were not enough.

She says she needed to move further from her grade, to something better and bigger.

Said Susan: “I got inspired by women empowerment advocacy from non-state actors and with time, I revamped my farming activities,”

Her big motivation, however, was a visit to the village where she saw farmers suffering and she wanted something better for them.

The farmer says she became a serious farmer of maize, tomatoes, soya beans, groundnuts and pigeon peas.

Luck smiled on her and Susan began to supply to agro-processors and institutions.

Slowly with her active interactions with processors and exposure to extension interventions; she saw a possibility of growth through small to medium productions.

“I started on a 2.5 hectares of land and now I am farming 10 hectares,” says Susan.

The association she heads was born out of the need to move pigeon pea farmers forward, an undertaking that could only work if farmers combined their forces to overcome the challenges as well as to explore opportunities available.

Being the leader in promoting Malawian pigeon pea farmers, giving them a powerful voice and improving their livelihood is the vision that runs the association.

Susan explains that being the voice, promoting and safeguarding the interest of all pigeon pea farmers in Malawi is the lifeline of the work she does.

She says she was privileged to be chosen as their chairperson.

With over 6 000 paid members and close to 30 000 registered farmers across the country, she says she has deep passion for the association, her love growing with time.

Many pigeon pea farmers also appreciate the associations’ interest to protect, as well as assist in the marketing of pigeon peas.

Fixon Mkwamba chairperson of Lomola cooperative which comprises 10 villages, including Ndalama and Kanthawire in Thyolo District says before the association, farmers were being duped as they sold their nandolo at K50 0r K40 per kilogramme (kg), which meant a 50 kg bag at K2 500 or less.

When the association advised them of a market, members and non-members of the cooperative put together 500 bags, which were sold at K230 per kilogram, a great improvement, however, there were innumerable challenges.

“We were told clubs, cooperatives and associations would sell first at Admarc, but to our surprise it was vendors and politicians who sold their nandolo,” he says to sell.

The association came to their rescue by calling Zodiak and Times media to cover the injustice and only after this intervention did they sell some of the bags, however their fellows didn’t sell a single bag.

The association went ahead to organise demonstrations in protest of the lack of sales, prompting government to intervene by buying from them.

To this end, they sold 43 100 kg, providing them with about K9 million.

“We can see the association’s vision being fulfilled in us,” narrates Fixon.

“It gives me great satisfaction to see the lives of small holder farmers changing from their former levels to owning a decent house and providing basic needs for their families,” adds Susan, expressing the extent of the associations’ work.

Narrating the very beginning of the Nandolo exodus (journey) she says in 2013-2014 she was involved in the Participatory Marketing System Development (PMSD) forum meeting for pigeon peas organised by Christian Aid, which is also the organisation which helps the association.

This brought all actors in the pigeon pea value chain to explore opportunities and challenges for the development of a viable pigeon pea industry in Malawi.

During the PMSD forum meetings, participants discussed several issues concerning the pigeon pea market chain from production to exporting. The partakers included, pigeon pea farmers across the country, members from the NGO sector, processors and traders; extension providers and researchers from government and service providers such as financial institutions, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) and input suppliers.

Farmers available at the PSMD numbered 21 who after being enlightened on the prospects and challenges of Pigeon peas, agreed that forming the association would be the only solution.

The 21 farmers each contributed K5 000 for registration and to launch the association.

Nandolo farmers association was registered on June 4 2015 and was officially launched on July 24 2015 by the Ministry of Agriculture.

“The combined forces of the pigeon growers aim to achieve increased production as well as maximising our return from pigeon pea production,” Susan states,

Their current processes in poverty reduction include the Pigeon Pea Sector Improvement Project (PPSIP) whose main mandate is improving the livelihoods of rural household farmers through improved Pigeon Pea Value and better market access.

Explaining the advantages of the crop, Susan says that, pigeon pea is a low input requirement crop, which makes it easy to grow at the same time it is a crop that improves soil fertility.

“If pigeon peas were being processed at a high level, it would lead to the creation of jobs reducing the levels of unemployment in the country, as well as helping the country to earn forex through exports.”

Pigeon peas are largely consumed in the southern region and some parts of the central region, in the form of Makaka a mixture of cassava and nandolo. Pigeon peas are also eaten as relish which either go with nsima or rice.

Elsewhere like India for instance it is an important food source, the same applies to other parts of the arid or dry infertile world. Value added products from pigeon peas offer an affordable alternative to meat-based protein as observed in the Philippine’s journal, a research done by Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and development; apart from being a source of income for small holder farmers and rural households.

Products from pigeon pea flour include Pigeon pea cakes, cookies as well as pasta ingredients

‘With the challenges of Climate changes, pigeon peas stand a greater chance of doing well than other crops because it is drought resistant.” Susan says,

The list for investing in pigeon peas are many, all the crop needs is, to be given enough consideration in terms of resources such as land, labour, capital and sensation so people are more aware of the crop.

Chimbayo says their biggest challenge, being a farmer based organisation, is resources mobilisation. She says its main source of funds comes from the membership fee, which has muddled the growth of the organisation as well as failing them in their goal to reach all pigeon pea farmers in the country.

She says the association was formed on the principle of unity.

“United we stand, divided we fall.” She says, citing the famous saying. Pigeon pea farmers being organised, means standing a better chance of benefitting from their production.

With a powerful voice, they would voice out their concerns and lobby for the support they need like policies and increase their bargaining power.

Freedom to explore more business opportunities, the farmer would not be limited to only being a producer but would be in a better position to expand their base to a trader, exporter and processor.

Susan is a mother of four, two boys and two girls and she has two grandchildren, she worked for Blantyre printing and publishing company for 15 years and moved on to being media manager and later accounts executive. She holds an advanced diploma in business management.

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