On 15 August 2019, the Government of Flanders approved a project grant to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on land use planning and sustainable land and water management to improve agricultural productivity in Malawi. The project will be carried out in two districts Kasungu and Mzimba.
The main objectives of this project are to support small-scale farmers in securing land tenure through systematic rural land registration and in sustainable water and land management. The land policy reform, enables Malawi to develop a strategic approach to sustainable land management. Farmers will thus be more inclined to commit to sustainable agriculture and water systems, which will have long-term benefits on climate change and food security. With this project, FAO is expected to reach at least 60,000 smallholder-farming households. The project is a collaboration between the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development and the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Resources.
At this point, it is clear that the programme is achieving results. One of the farmers participating in the programme is Benson Mhone. He was happy to share his story:
Benson Mhone’s story: Reaping the benefits of collective marketing
In 2018, Benson Mhone of Matukusha village, Traditional Authority (TA) Lukwa in Kasungu district decided to take his soya production as a business, following everything that he had learnt from the farmer field school (FFS) and practicing it on his farming business. He then went further, and for the first time sold his produce through collective marketing. It was a decision that brought financial gain and real change to his life. He hasn’t looked back since.
Before being introduced to farmer field school through the Government of Flanders funded Marketing Capacity Building project for smallholder farmers, the future did not look so promising for Benson. For 6 years he had been growing soya beans on 0.4 ha of land, harvesting only 4 bags, and selling his farm produce directly to individual vendors. This was a routine practice each and every season despite incurring repeated financial losses. His own words of the experience are “Ndimangolima kumalemeletsa ma vendor” which translated means ‘I was only farming for the enrichment of the vendors’.
Benson is a 38 years old with a wife and three children. It is a lament which many of his fellow farmers have, with vendors sometimes even buying soya beans while the crop was still in the field, at extremely low prices.
The turnaround point for Benson
When the ‘Marketing capacity building project for smallholder farmers in Mzimba and Kasungu districts’ was introduced in TA Lukwa in the year 2017 through an extension worker, Kondwani Mponela, Benson got interested and joined as a community-based facilitator at Chidzenje FFS.
From there, Benson learnt to start taking farming as a business. He rented an additional piece of land and grew soya beans on 0.8ha. He also learnt how to determine his breakeven and profitable selling price, through simple gross margin analysis. He also learned how and where to reduce cost of production. It was then, Benson realized that all along, he had been selling his produce at a loss and which made him not to progress in any way.
Furthermore, Benson saw the potential for marketing his farm produce collectively, leading his FFS to join 11 other FFSs to form Chidzenje network. A network has a large number of farmers, which means this grouping is able to aggregate large quantities of product, giving an advantage when it comes to negotiating prices with buyers looking to source large quantities from one location.
In 2018, Benson harvested 26 bags of soya beans, having increased his yield per hectare to from 500kg/ha, to 1625kg/ha, thanks to skills and technology combinations learnt from FFS. He sold 21 bags to Sunseed Oil Limited through Chidzenje network. In the 2018/19 season, Chidzenje network aggregated ten tonnes of soya beans and sold these at K280 (USD 0.35) per kg. This was above the vendor price at the time, which was K130 (USD 0.16) per kg. Chidzenje network is linked to Chilanga Cooperative, which has over 50 networks that are also aggregating products and supporting farmers with links to secure markets. Through this strategy, Benson earned MK319 200 (USD405). It was the first time that he received a substantial amount of money at once through sales from farm produce.
A rewarding endeavour
From the money earned, Benson bought a pig and also managed to improve his family’s living conditions by building a brick house. The family now has a total of 11 pigs from the initial purchase. The family is even selling kidney beans, grown and sold during the off-season when they fetch better prices, which allows for additional income through the year.
Benson also confirms that he and his wife have prioritized finishing the roofing of their house, upgrading the floor to a cement one and buying of a motorcycle to be used for a transportation business. Benson is a proud CBF who has tasted the goodness of collective marketing through the FFS networks as well as approaching farming as a business.
“Ulimi ndi business yotentha alangizi” (farming is a hot business) is what he keeps telling his agricultural extension worker and others from his community.
About the Marketing capacity building project for smallholder farmers
The Marketing capacity building project for smallholder farmers in Mzimba and Kasungu is being implemented collaboratively by the Government of Malawi and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The main goal of the project is to strengthen the capacity of the decentralized institutions of the Ministry of Agriculture to support smallholder market-oriented agricultural production. The project implementation period is from December 2015 to December 2021.