Mussa: Farmers are gaining more from their farming endeavours because of cooperatives 

Smallholder famers in Mangochi and Machinga districts are singing praises to collective marketing of their produce saying it is enabling them to realise more from their farming endeavours. This, they say, is unlike in the past when they were selling their produce as individuals.

Tikamulane Cooperative is a 513-member grouping that specialises in soy farming in Namwera, Mangochi districts. The Cooperative’s chairperson, Brighton Mussa says working as a team has made them realise that farming can indeed be a business that can boost their economic statuses. 

Mussa says ever since the farmers organised themselves into a cooperative in 2016 with support from Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM), the farmers are reaping more fruits that are improving their families’ livelihoods.

 “Working as a cooperative gives us a leverage in negotiation for better prices”, he says. “After harvesting, we put our soybean together to have a considerable amount of tonnage and this helps us negotiate better prices with the buyer as opposed to selling as individuals.”

“Because of the collective marketing skills that farmers union of Malawi has empowered us with, we no longer sell our produce to scrupulous vendors – we are now selling to big companies”.

In Machinga, men and women farming on a 500 hector Domasi Rice Irrigation Scheme have also organised themselves into a cooperative thanks to Strengthening Inclusive Agriculture Sector Growth and Sustainable Natural Resource Governance in Malawi project that CISANET, Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA), FUM and Malawi Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) are implementing in the area.

Anderson Chapita is the chairperson for Domasi Irrigation Scheme and he says following various skills that the project has equipped them with, they no longer sell their rice soon after harvesting.

“We have a warehouse where we store our rice until prices on the market are better,” he explains. “Working as a cooperative has also worked to our advantage because when we put all our produce together, our tonnage is big, and this helps attract big buyers.”

“We have also resorted to selling white rice because it fetches more on the market unlike unmilled rice”.

Harriet Smart is a member of the scheme and she says new farming techniques and improved seeds introduced by FUM at the scheme are enabling them harvest more.

“From 0.1 hectares piece of land we are now able to harvest 600 kilograms unlike the 400 kilograms we used to realise before we acquired new rice cultivation techniques,” she explains. “The amount of seed we are using has also decreased and this means more savings for a smallholder farmer like me”.

Besides facilitating the formulation of a cooperatives in the districts where the project is being implemented, the collaborating partners of this project with funding from USAID have also built governance capacities of cooperatives on how to run successful institutions.

This includes putting in place instruments that promote accountability and transparency and equipping them with fundraising skills. This, he says, increases confidence in farmers and interested stakeholders that are supporting the groupings financially and technically.

“In 2020, we received a grant of about MK72 million to help us in production of quality soybean and the results this year were remarkable,” explains Mussa. “This just demonstrates the more reason why farmers must be organised into functional cooperative because there are more benefits that farmers can realise.

“As a cooperative, we have also employed professionals to manage all administrative work, finances but also to provide us with extension services on how we can increase soy production. The experts are helping us account for every tambala we get, and all this would not have been possible if we weren’t in a cooperative.”

Cisanet National Director, Pamela Kuwali says remarkable work being done by organised smallholder farmers that the project is working with demonstrates that if everything that is in the National Agriculture Policy and National Agriculture Investment Plan was being wholesomely implemented, the agriculture sector would have been transformed by now.

“The NAP focuses on agriculture production for food sufficiency and commercialisation,” she says. “Secondly, the policy is also looking at promotion of access to agriculture markets – making sure that farmers are producing and are also able to sale.

“If we did these two, Malawians would never go hungry and we are not only talking about focusing on maize production because one of the objectives is about food and nutrition security. This means Malawi would have a variety of food and not just maize.”