Matchaya Farmers Spread the Wealth

Dodging speeding trucks on the way to the field, I marvel again at how tiny my role in development really is, and how remarkable people can be when they want to change the world. Most people don’t want to put their farm right up against a major paved road with huge trucks roaring through all day.  And most people do not want to have strangers slow down to ask them questions while they are at work.  But the farmers of the Matchaya Farmers’ Field and Business School in Malawi are not most people.  “We put our demonstration plot right on the side of the main road so that people would see and be curious. It gives us a chance to share our knowledge with people who are not a part of our group.  So far, we have taught new agricultural techniques to more than 150 people.”

The farmers in Matchaya are not hording what they know so that no one else can catch up. And despite the enormous volume of hard work that smallholder farmers must do every day, they have not decided that they are too busy to bother with their neighbors.  Instead, they are reaching out to others and creating a change. It’s a theme we see over and over: people are so excited by the new ideas they learn, and the way those ideas change their lives, that they want to share the knowledge with everyone.

CARE’s Pathways program works with 50,000 women farmers in six countries around the world to help families become more food secure and escape poverty.  The program gives communities education and support on issues of food security, agriculture, marketing, nutrition, gender equality, and climate change resilience. But the changes we are seeing move far beyond the 50,000 women that we reach directly.  Why is that? Partly it’s because benefits from a woman and a family spill over into the neighbors as people have more money to spend in their communities.  But mostly it’s because the people we work with have committed to changing the world. On visits to three different communities this week, every single group told me how they work to make sure that their whole community changes, and not just themselves.  This isn’t something we require them to do; it’s just an idea that they feel so strongly that they make sure it happens.

Dansi Masimbe is a volunteer Farmer to Farmer Trainer in the Pathways program in Malawi.  He doesn’t get paid in cash, just a little training, supervision, and attention from CARE, and recognition of a job well done from his community. If you ask him what motivates him to do his job, he says “I like being in groups, and teaching people things they do not know. This is my community, too, and I want us all to develop.” When the farmers commit to reaching out to their neighbors, they have more skills, stronger relationships, and a network that allows them to reach hundreds of people that our program doesn’t have the bandwidth to reach.

It’s easy to think that you are trying to change the world when you work for an NGO, easy to take your own contribution to poor people too seriously.  It turns out that I’m not the one changing the world; I’m just giving Dansi and the farmers of Matchaya the tools they need to start the real change.

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.