Empowering Female Farmers to Uplift Communities
Photo: Lustia Kachapila Nkhoma, Anchor Farm Project field officer, stands near soya crops with other Anchor Farm participants in Malawi.
The Clinton Development Initiative established the Anchor Farm Project in 2008 to help smallholder farmers in Malawi create sustainable farming solutions and increase their income. Since then, the project has expanded to include four 1,000 hectare “anchor” farms that partner with more than 21,000 local smallholder farmers, and provide them with access to quality inputs for maize and soya production, agronomic training, and access to formal markets. The farmers work together in groups called “farm clubs” that support their efforts and help to expand the success of the project within their communities. In celebration of International Women’s Day, we recently asked Lustia Kachapila Nkhoma, an Anchor Farm Project field officer in Malawi, a few questions about the project, her role as a field officer, female farm clubs, and how she thinks the Anchor Farm is beneficial to women farmers. Lustia shares her insights with us below.
1. Tell us about the Anchor Farm Project and how it works to empower and sustain local smallholder farmers and their communities.
The Anchor Farm Project helps to extend the best agronomic practices for increasing productivity of soya and maize (grown in rotation) through effective linkages with researchers, training public extension workers, and developing a network of well-trained lead farmers. We work to improve market linkages through regular acquisition and dissemination of market information; linkages to input suppliers for high quality products and competitive prices; enhancing farmers’ access to financial service providers; and developing contract marketing and business relationships with established farm product buyers. The project trains and mentors farmers to lead and develop farmer organisations such as clubs, and umbrella organisations or associations.
2. As a CDI field officer in Malawi, what is your role in connecting smallholder farmers to the Anchor Farm Project?
I reach potential farmers by participating in community project awareness and sensitization meetings that introduce the farmers to the Anchor Farms Project. I then train lead farmers who have been chosen to head an organized group of anchor farmers called “farmer clubs.” I verify farmer club information and membership, and appraise farmer club eligibility for input loans using the criteria of the lending financial institution. I assist in organizing field days Assist in organizing farmers to receive project visitors. Finally, I supervise baseline surveys and other surveys commissioned by the project and monitor farm input distribution and farm output collection at the bulking center, as well as shipments to buyers or to the anchor farms.
3. Traditionally women in Malawi are strongly connected to agriculture, and are actively involved in farming; how have the Anchor Farm Project and your work in the region helped to support and empower female farmers?
This Anchor Farm Project supports and empowers female farmers by giving them a chance to hold various positions in their farmer clubs such as, chairperson, secretary, treasurer, and lead farmer so that they can actively participate in decision making.
4. Farmers organize into clubs of 15-20 in order to qualify for input loans. What other benefits do farmers receive from these clubs? How have these farmer clubs affected their members and the larger community?
The farmers receive training in integrated soil fertility management, soya bean agronomy, group dynamics, and leadership. They achieve high yields as a result of their agronomic training access to farm inputs, and better access to markets which reduces hunger and poverty in the community. Some clubs use their internal finances for social welfare. For instance, when a member is bereaved, the group can help that member with some of their funds. They can also assist members with money that helps them get medical care when they are sick.
5. The farmer clubs provide a unique, collaborative support system for farmers. Can you tell us about some of the all-female clubs? How have these female-led farming cooperatives impacted the larger community?
They have a great impact; through experience and research it has been noted that if all-female clubs have taken a loan, they are able to repay it without any problem. The female farmers also try to help each other, and after they sell their own produce they will help other mothers and farmers however they can.
6. How have you seen communities change and grow since you started working for CDI?
Even though I’ve only been working with CDI for 10 months, I have seen a greater change in these communities because of their participation in various CDI activities. For example, they have shown great interest in growing soya beans, and have abandoned tobacco that yields low returns.
7. How can CDI meet its target to have female farmers make up 50% of participants and 35% of lead farmers in the Anchor Farm Project?
By employing more women field officers we can reach out to and easily attract more local female farmers. We can encourage other women in the community to participate in this project, and as a result we can meet our target of 50% female farmers. Through exchange visits to other areas that are doing similar work, the women will learn quickly by example.