Working with smallholder farmers in Malawi over the past few years, I’ve seen how a lack of quality inputs, especially certified seed, depleted soil, and outdated practices are disadvantages to farmers’ productivity and can hurt their livelihoods. Farmers battle these elements, and, in addition, struggle to find stable markets that will offer them fair prices for their crops. Since 2008, the Clinton Foundation, through the Clinton Development Initiative (CDI), has operated the Anchor Farm Project– five commercial farms in the Mchinji and Kasungu districts of Malawi that provide neighboring smallholder farmers with the tools they need to improve their lives through quality inputs, training in agribusiness, and market access. Our work focuses on empowering these farmers and offering them greater economic opportunity. In only five years, we’ve worked with more than 21,000 smallholder farmers, and as a result, they’ve been able to increase their yields by 150 percent on average, and increase their profitability by 567 percent.
For the smallholder farm families who partner with the Anchor Farm Project, that increased income can transform their lives, and more importantly the lives of their children. Agnes Sipanala not only operates her own small farm under the Anchor Farm Project but also works on one of CDI’s own commercial farms. Now that Agnes has access to quality inputs and has learned new farming techniques, she is getting higher yields, receiving better selling prices from the crops on her own farm, and earning extra income from her job on the Anchor Farm. As a result, she has been able to send her son to school, pay his school fees, and buy a pig that today has three piglets. Agnes hopes to buy goats next, diversifying her income. She also knows that if money ever again becomes scarce, she can sell a goat or pig in order to sustain her family – which is tremendous security in rural Malawi.
Now, recognizing the importance of health and wellness to people’s ability to work productively, we're also expanding our programs in Malawi to address health care access. Over the last decade, Malawi has been able to reduce infant mortality and HIV infection rates but, these numbers are still too high – the maternal mortality rate in Malawi is 460 deaths for 100,000 live births, and HIV/AIDS prevalence among adults is 11 percent. Smallholder farmers, who work every day in the field growing the food their family needs to survive, often have neither the time nor the means to travel to central or district hospitals in cities or trading centers. According to the District Health Officer in Kasungu District, where three of CDI’s Anchor Farms are located, health care is considered inaccessible to 38 percent of people in the district; for example, each of the CDI farms is at least 5 miles away from the closest health facility. That means that the distance to travel to the nearest healthcare provider and the widespread lack of transportation available to the rural poor in Malawi make it unlikely that large numbers of men, women and children in the area CDI serves would receive medical care.
In an effort to provide health care – a basic human right – to those least able to afford or access it, President Clinton and German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel in May signed a memorandum of understanding between the Clinton Foundation and the German government. With support from the German government, we will construct and operate Rural Health Centers on three of our Anchor Farms in the Mchinji and Kasungu districts. Each clinic will provide basic primary care, HIV/AIDS testing and treatment, and a range of services for women and children, including family planning, prenatal care, labor and delivery, vaccination, and nutrition therapy to the the workers on our Anchor Farms, their families, and people living in the surrounding villages
This week while President Clinton, Chelsea, and the delegation visit one of our newest Anchor Farms in Santhe, Malawi, they will see how farmers have improved their productivity through better training and inputs available to them through the Foundation. When the delegation returns again, I hope that they will see how much stronger the farming communities will be, as better health and wellness can improve anyone’s quality of life, increase their productivity, and uplift their communities overall. For the farmers and their families, whose access to even basic healthcare has been limited, we hope that the Rural Health Centers will mean more opportunity and a better future.