Women are an essential part in ensuring that families are well fed and nourished. These were the words of Mieke Govaerts, Policy Advisor of Flanders Department of Foreign Affairs (Government of Flanders) when she and the Programme Manager of the Department, Laurence De Wolf, visited the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)-supported Mgwirizano Farmer Organization in Lilongwe at the end of last month.
She said that the Government of Flanders was partnering with WFP to support local farmers so that they can realize more from their harvests.
“Together we are working towards ending hunger, and I am happy to see there are many women in this group of farmers,” she said.
Mgwirizano Farmer Organization is a farmer cooperative in TA Kabudula, Lilongwe. It currently has a membership of 445 farmers coming from 13 farmer clubs. Of the total membership, a notable 67 percent are women.
The farmer organization is connected to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) under the Purchase for Progress (P4P) programme, which is supported by the Government of Flanders and leverages WFP’s purchasing power and expertise in food quality and logistics to link smallholder farmers to agricultural markets.
WFP provides trainings in post-harvest management to help smallholder farmers yield the most from their harvests and also works with partners like the Agricultural Commodity Exchange for Africa (ACE) to build the capacity of smallholder farmers to engage in collective marketing and sales on the open market.
In order to improve access to storage, WFP has facilitated the building of warehouses with funding from various development partners, including the Government of Flanders. Rural storage is a necessity for smallholder farmers in Malawi, allowing them to aggregate their commodities to sell to larger buyers, reduce post-harvest losses and store commodities until a time when prices are most favourable. With support from Flanders, WFP in partnership with the National Smallholder Farmers Association (NASFAM) and ACE constructed a 700 mt capacity warehouse for the Mgwirizano farmers in 2014.
Despite this year’s poor harvest, members of Mgwirizano have been able to aggregate an impressive 172 mt of maize, 1.7 mt of groundnuts, and 1.3 mt of soya beans. This year the cooperative has so far sold 104 mts of commodities and they are still keeping 67 mt maize in the warehouse. The proceeds from sales are usually shared among the farmers in proportion to commodities stored at the warehouse.
The income empowers women as they are becoming larger contributors to household income. Among others, members use the income to purchase farm inputs, including fertilizer and seeds, as well as other basic household needs. Some members have also invested in livestock farming.
The farmer organization is also part of a pilot initiative under Purchase for Progress in collaboration with the NGO Total Landcare, that aims at promoting resilient livelihoods for smallholder farmers by providing labor-saving technologies such as fuel-efficient stoves, individual homestead woodlots and alternative conservation agriculture, in order to allow for better use of women’s time as well as encouraging sustainable land practices.