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. Yesterday, President Clinton, Chelsea, and the delegation visited the newest Anchor Farm Project in Santhe, Malawi, where Elinat Mtupanyana, an Anchor Farm Project field officer, demonstrated how to incorporate soya into recipes. We recently asked Elinat a few questions about the Anchor Farm Project, the benefits soya, her role as a female field officer, and how she thinks the Anchor Farm is beneficial to farmers, their families, and their communities. Elinat shares her insights with us below.
How did you get involved in CDI’s soya program and what made you want to start?
I learned about the Clinton Foundation from field days and they needed someone to do cooking demonstrations for soya food. Before I worked for the Clinton Foundation, I worked with soya at the Ministry of Agriculture for 16 years.
What is your connection to smallholder farmers, as a Clinton Development Initiative field officer?
As a Clinton Development Initiative field officer, I am involved in community mobilization, helping smallholder farmers form small farmers groups. These groups gain the knowledge and motivation to improve their agribusiness and their lives. They also host field days to share with other community members new farming techniques, information about soya, and encourage them to use any opportunity (from casual labor to field days) to improve the way they farm for their own families.
What are the benefits of the program of the commercial farm?
The employees benefit because they earn a living but also get training at the same time. The communities directly around the farm are farming themselves, so they are able to come to the farm to get inputs and learning new farming techniques and work during the harvest season,
What is it like to be a female facilitator in these communities?
I feel like a record-breaker and a pioneer because throughout the country’s history, field officers and extension agents have been men. I also love that I can help women in activities that create economic growth. There are two reactions from men when they see that I work in the soya fields: They either enjoy working with women, finding us to be more trustworthy and reliable, or they still believe that women should be subordinate or remain in home-based roles, not making decisions or leading. These men often still participate, but they sometimes don’t like to be seen as relying on women for education.
How long have you worked with soya?
I began working with soya because I saw how important the nutrition-rich food was for mothers and children. Many mothers were taking their children to nutrition rehabilitation centers, which took a lot of time and was expensive. Using soya they could create the same food at home, their children would be healthier, and they wouldn’t have to spend time traveling to the rehabilitation centers.
What is the impact of using soya?
Soya agriculture has become popular very quickly because farmers can maximize production of their land by rotating soya and maize. Farmers are now more motivated to go into soya production because they know they can be successful. When farmers used to get 2 bags per acre – each bag is 50 kg – and now farmers’ yields are more than 23 kg per acre. Lately, the declining tobacco market has had a big impact on the community. Farmers saw that tobacco prices were stagnant for a long time, while soya prices were steadily increasing.
There is also a big benefit because soya is also a short-term crop – it matures quickly, especially relative to tobacco, so women have more time to invest in other activities besides field work. The early harvest lets women use the income from crop sales to diversify nutrition and benefit from price rise by engaging in crop trading! Because they have money early, they buy other crops like beans, consume some, and sell the rest when prices rise. This is increasing their profits even more.
What impacts are you seeing for women from soya?
We often work with mothers learn to feed their children with soya. Mothers with malnourished children learn to prepare the exact product (likuni phala) in their own homes and mothers with healthier children learn to prevent malnutrition by incorporating soya into a balanced diet. These are important lessons because early childhood nutrition plays a large part in their emotional and intellectual development and by keeping their families healthy mothers avoid lost time or money taking family members to the clinic, even worse, spending weeks in the hospital with a seriously malnourished child.
With the extra income made from soya’s high yield, women are investing in their homes and are able to send their children to school.
How do you convince people to use soya in their recipes?
I’ve also been working to educate farmers about soya’s nutritional value. There has always been appreciation for its commercial value, but farmers weren’t eating it because they didn’t know how nutritional it was or how to process it. But I introduce easy technologies, locally available resources, and simple soya recipes like donuts or cheula, which is a spicy, salty funnel cake. The people who taste the soya products at field days and at our displays didn’t believe the foods were made with soya because they taste so good!
What potential do you see for the Anchor Farm to create for communities and your own professional development?
This project can transform the community. If a farmer cultivates one acre of soya, and produces yield of 20 bags, which is pretty typical, so he will use 5 to repay the input loans. Then a family can save 3 bags for home consumption which fortifies their diet. Now, she has 12 bags left to sell, which produces more than enough profit to cultivate twice as much land the next year. Land isn’t unlimited, so all the extra profits will be used other places in the community, starting new businesses, health care, and secondary education. The whole community will feel the benefits of economic empowerment, like better roads and schools, and sanitation and hygiene.
Personally, I want to work at this project as long as it exists. I’m proud of the change I’ve had with this project. I’ve learned about health and agriculture, I’ve helped improve the economy and I’m inspired to do more. I’ve helped others, but I’ve also used the information to farm my own four-acre plot of land. After reserving the soya to cook for my family, I used the profits to buy a sewing and embroidery machine, satellite TV, and still had savings! And I was able to keep 20 bags of soya for my family to eat this year – an entire ton!