George, Elen, and Nelson Mandela Improve Farming in Malawi

This pile of peanuts drying may be my favorite tribute to Nelson Mandela that I’ve ever seen. Besides being a great man, a politician, and a role model for us all, Nelson Mandela was an avid gardener, and I think he would have been happy to hear that people named a technology that is changing the way they handle food after him. It’s called the “Mandela Cock,” and it’s a new way to dry peanuts that keeps the seeds viable for replanting, reduces damage and waste in the crop, keeps the volume of peanuts to sell high, and prevents dangerous toxins that can grow on peanuts that are not appropriately dried. Since it was a technology that Malawians originally learned from South Africa, they decided to show their respect for Mandela by naming it after him.   For George and Elen Banda, the Mandela Cock—and some support from CARE—has changed their lives, an honor I think Mr. Mandela would have been proud to see.

Two years ago, George and Elen had no land and no cash crops.  It can be very expensive to rent or buy land in the Kisungu district of Malawi where they live, and they didn’t have a lot of options.  But after working with CARE’s Pathways program and joining the Farmers’ Field and Business School that helps them learn about nutrition, marketing, agricultural techniques, and gender issues, they decided to grow peanuts.  They found a way to rent some land, and their Farmer to Farmer Trainer helped them get a contract to grow peanuts for a local buyer.  They used new planting techniques this year to ensure higher yields. As they harvest the crops, they are using the new drying technology to ensure a high quality, high volume crop that will fetch the highest price and have the most yield.

The new drying techniques are not all that they have learned.  The FFBS model has taught them important skills, like how to find and negotiate with buyers, how to adopt farming methods that improve soil quality, and how to make sure that men and women are making decisions together about their agriculture, their income, and their families.  In the traditionally male-dominated area of central Malawi, those are big changes for George and Elen.

With a little help from their FFT to negotiate with the buyer, this year, George and Elen expect to produce 1,900 kg of peanuts, and turn a profit of roughly $2,000.  That’s a lot of money in a country where the average annual income is $800. What are George and Elen doing with their new earnings?  This year, they invested some into the land to grow more peanuts.  They have also built a new house—one that should last them for 30 years, instead of having to be rebuilt every five and re-thatched every year as the rains destroy it.  And they bought a dining room table and chairs.

George and Elen did not need a huge boost to get a new life—just a little support from CARE on learning new technologies and making connections with the market players who can pay for their crops.  A tiny nudge from Mr. Mandela made all the difference.

Elen and George are not alone.  They are part of CARE’s Pathways program to that works with 50,000 women farmers to help families become more food secure and escape poverty.  The program works in 6 countries around the world on issues of food security, agriculture, marketing, nutrition, gender equality, and climate change resilience. Since the program started, it has not only helped George and Elen make a $2,000 profit, it has also helped women farmers around the world earn more than $3.9 million in income from improved agricultural yields.

About the Program: CARE’s Pathways Program is based on the conviction that women farmers possess enormous potential to contribute to long-term food security for their families and substantially impact nutritional outcomes in sustainable ways. The program builds on CARE’s expertise in smallholder agriculture, financial inclusion, nutrition, women’s empowerment and market engagement. Working in partnership with others, Pathways promotes transformative change in women’s live and the lives of their families by combining and expanding upon the best of what we know. Pathways aims to increase the productivity and empowerment of women farmers in more equitable agriculture systems at scale. Specific objectives include increasing the productivity and empowerment of 50,000 poor women farmers in sustainable and equitable agricultural systems; enhancing the scale of high-quality women-responsive agricultural programming within and beyond CARE; and influencing debates and policy dialog on women and agriculture at local, national and global levels. Mali is one of six Pathways countries, along with Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, India, and Bangladesh.

About the Author: Emily Janoch is the Senior Technical Advisor for Knowledge Management and Research for CARE USA’s Food and Nutrition Security team.  She has 9 years of experience in international development, focusing on how to work with communities to get solutions that work for them.  She has a Masters’ in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.