Lack of good job offers has pushed some youths in Mzimba into farming as a business, but poor market linkages still haunt them, Our reporter JOHN CHIRWA writes.
Moses Kamanga, 28, migrated to Mzuzu soon after leaving secondary school in 2010 with the hope of landing a white-collar job in the city.
His quest landed him a blue-collar job as an assistant welder at a firm contracted to construct fuel reserves in Mzuzu.
“I was receiving K700 a day. This was not enough. It was too little to support my daily needs.
“So, I quit the job and returned home in 2015 to venture into farming,” says Kamanga who comes from Makumbo, a hard-to-reach area on the border between Nkhata Bay and Mzimba districts. He started farming with a capital of K150 000.
“I saved K50 000 from my previous employment and my parents topped up with K100 000 to start growing Irish potatoes for business,” he says
In the first year, Kamanga harvested 150 tins of Irish potatoes worth K600 000 from his half acre. He used part pf the money to buy an ox-cart to lessen the burden of transportation.
In the second year, he increased acreage and started harvesting three times as much through winter cropping.
“In a space of three years, I have built two houses and I have bought several livestock with proceeds from farming. I never regret taking this path,” he says.
Kamanga is now an inspiration to many of the village youths who are now following in his footsteps.
“My advice to fellow youths is that we need to embrace farming as a business since jobs are scarce. We can create our own employment as I have done. There is gold in farming,” he says.
Nkhata Bay district youth officer Youngson Ngwira says Kamanga sets a good example of how the youth need to beat unemployment through agribusiness.
“We have a number of young people in Nkhata Bay who can’t find jobs. But most of them are not engaging themselves in agri-business.
“The issue is about the background we are coming from. We are coming from a background where we think that farming is for adults. We need a mindset change. Farming is not just for adults, but for people of all ages,” he says.
In Malawi, agriculture remains the backbone of the economy and vital for the livelihoods of most Malawians as it generates 29 percent of GDP, 65 percent of employment, and 67 percent of export earnings.
Despite such contributions, farmers face challenges to access markets, finance and lack of value addition to their crops.
Kamanga says middlemen in the area offer low prices for their produce which robs the farmers of their profits.
“Vendors visit our farms to negotiate for low prices and sell the same produce at a higher price in town. We end up making losses,” he says.
As a solution, Kamanga says last year, they visited supermarkets in Mzuzu to look for better markets. However, the youthful farmers failed to meet the demand due to low supply of the commodity.
“We visited Shoprite in Mzuzu. They told us to supply them one tonne of Irish potatoes every fortnight. But we haven’t satisfied the demand because our supply is very low,” he says.
Nkhata Bay District Council agriculture gender roles, extension support services officer Gladwell Banda, who is also an agri-business expert, says farmers need to sell their produce through associations, groups or cooperatives to meet the demand of commodities on the market.
“What we advise farmers is that before they venture into farming, they need to look for a market first. This will inform them whether to continue with that particular crop or not.
“Then after establishing the market, they need to form groups and sell their produce in bulk. In that way, they will definitely meet the demand,” he explains.
Banda, however, says the challenge in Malawi is that “most farmers grow crops for food and not for commercial purposes”.
“It’s the surplus they sale. And it usually comes as an afterthought; hence, all these problems,” he says. Small and Medium Enterprises Development Institute (Smedi) business information specialist Hamida Banda says youth farmers need to undergo business management and entrepreneurship trainings to learn about costing and pricing.
She says this knowledge helps farmers know how much they spend to produce a product and how much they need to sell it to profit.
“And for the market, they shouldn’t wait for vendors to come and exploit them. Farmers need to be proactive by searching for well established markets. In that way, they will be guaranteed of making more profits,” she says.
Banda says farmers’ clubs or groups need to be amalgamated into bigger associations and give each other turns in supplying the product to markets where they can fetch higher prices.
“In that way they can satisfy the demand rather than doing it single-handedly,” she says.
But for them to gain the trust of supermarkets to win such contracts, Banda says farmers must register their businesses.
She says Smedi assists farmers who wish to register their businesses with the Registrar General’s office.
On the issue of capital which limits some youths to venture into agri-businesses, Banda says those interested need to have business plans as well.
“We also assist individuals or groups to formulate business plans which are needed by institutions to get loans.
“But they need to have registered businesses to get loans,” she says.
Meanwhile, Livingstonia Synod Aids Programme (Lisap) has rolled out a programme that targets the youth in the area to actively participate in agriculture.
The programme was initiated by Help a Child Malawi and is being implemented in partnership with National Association of Smallholder Farmers in Malawi (Nasfam).
Lisap executive director Gray Sidira says the project is training young people in entrepreneurship and agribusiness to empower the youth economically through farming.
He says the project has also linked farmers to banks and exchange commodity markets so that they can find capital and markets.
“From our engagement with these partners, we have learnt that commodity exchange markets are really coming forward to help our youth sell their products. And what will be required now is that young people should produce more so that they can take their products to the market,” says Sidira.
Government’s National Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIP) admits that agricultural transformation in the country requires improved access to markets, increased value addition, increased agricultural exports and trade, and better access to finance.
It says government has put in place a programme that is focusing on investment in transport, marketing and storage infrastructure to improve market access and reduce post-harvest losses.
“Through trade facilitation and export promotion, the programme will improve access of farmers and agribusiness to regional and global markets as well as to a broader range of quality inputs,” reads the blueprint which runs up to 2022/23 financial year.