This Q&A blog is part of a series called #SeedingOpportunity that explores the challenges and opportunities related to smallholder farming around the world.
We asked Lustia Nkhoma, field coordinator for the Clinton Development Initiative in Malawi, to tell us more about their work with smallholder farmers.
In Seeding Opportunity, the Clinton Foundation’s personalized farming experience, we learned a bit about what it’s like to be a smallholder farmer growing maize. How does maize and the production of other crops fit in with the Clinton Development Initiative’s (CDI) overall work with smallholder farmers in Malawi?
Maize is the staple food in Malawi, and it is produced by more than 90 percent of Malawi’s three million smallholder farmers. And the vast majority of these farmers can only produce enough for consumption, with little left over to sell and earn an income from. So helping farmers improve their agricultural productivity and market access for maize is important. But the Clinton Foundation’s work to empower smallholder famers goes beyond maize (to soya, in particular) for a number of reasons.
One of the reasons is to help address malnutrition. Malawi has high levels of stunting among children under five, which is an indication of prevalent chronic food and nutrition insecurity. In fact, about 1.4 million or almost half of the children in Malawi suffer from malnutrition that prevents proper growth and development in children. One of the ways to help prevent maluntrition is to ensure that farmers and their families have both enough to eat and have a diverse range of food available. CDI helps smallholder farmers diversify their diets by encouraging them to grow different crops, including cereals (mostly maize), legumes (soya, groundnuts, beans, and pigeon pea), vegetables, as well as fruit trees.
As most people in Malawi are not familiar with the utilization of soya for home consumption, CDI also trains farmers on how to process and utilize soya at home, using popular food recipes. Soybeans have long been recognized as a plant food that is rich in nutrients when compared with other plants as it is relatively high in protein. Protein is the reason that soybeans have been called "meat of the field" or "meat without bones." Adding new crops like soya is one of the many important aspects in helping Malawians address and prevent malnutrition.
In addition to the nutritional benefits, CDI has been promoting production of soya because it helps improve soil fertility. Historically, farmers grow maize season after season, which uses a lot of nitrogen. Growing soya improves soil fertility by taking nitrogen from the atmosphere and making it available in the soil for crops. So when farmers rotate the soya with maize, the nitrogen composition in the soil is maintained. In the long-term, this can result in cost-savings because the need to use fertilizer will gradually be reduced. Soya is also an attractive cash crop for farmers, as it is less capital-intensive than other common crops such as tobacco and maize, yet it generates high revenues.
Can you tell us more about how having access to proper warehouse storage can increase a smallholder farmer’s income?
Before having access to proper warehousing storage, some farmers used to store their produce at their homes in shaky and insecure village barns or just on the floor of their houses. This method leaves the grain or seed exposed to pests like rodents and weevils, which can lead to crop loss and reduced quality. These makeshift storage facilities are also exposed to hazardous weather conditions, such as rain and hot sun, which also reduce the quality of the farmer’s seed and grain. So, in order to minimize these risks, these farmers would often sell their produce right away when the markets are flooded with crops.
Traditional Maize Storage
With CDI providing access to a proper warehouse facility for storage, farmers are able to get higher prices for two main reasons. One, the farmer can wait until commodity prices increase without losing product quality. Two, buyers can buy large volumes of commodities at one location instead of having to travel around communities looking for produce. This saves the buyer time and money, so they are more motivated to offer a higher price.
CDI has built a very big community warehouse in Mchinji District that provides farmers with safe and secure crop storage. We’ve also established a Warehouse Receipt System in collaboration with Agriculture Commodity Exchange (ACE) that improves farmer access to markets. Specifically, through this partnership with ACE, CDI provides agronomic training to smallholder farmers and ACE provides loans through the Warehouse Receipt System and links smallholder farmers to structured markets.
Secure Warehouse Storage
What other challenges do smallholder farmers face?
Farmers face many additional challenges, including not having enough money to buy important farm inputs like improved seed, fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides. CDI is helping to address this by connecting farmers with loans to purchase and training them how to use them. Current systems for farmers to access loans and financial services come with high interest rates – around 40 percent. CDI is working with partners like ACE and MOST to develop innovative strategies for enhancing farmers’ access to finance, including revolving loan funds connected to Warehouse Receipt Systems. See why this system is important:
Based on your experience, what does it mean to empower smallholder farmers?
To me, an empowered farmer is one who is a happy farmer. And a happy farmer is one who can feed their family all year round; can send their children to school; is living in an improved home; and is able to invest in farming and other business activities to grow their income and wealth. An empowered farmer is a farmer who has a voice, has financial freedom, and is in control of his or her destiny.
Lucy Banda from Mlonyeni Mchinji district in Malawi is an empowered farmer.
Lucy and Lustia
After acquiring the training and access to financial institutions for farm input loans through CDI, Lucy was able to move out of her grass thatched mud house and into a roofed brick house that she built using iron sheets. She also installed a solar lighting system. This was made possible because of money she earned from high soya yields generated using best agronomy practices taught to her by CDI advisors.
For Lucy, and so many other farmers we help, a better home is more than just a better place to live; it’s security, dignity, and the chance to live a happier and fuller life.