In Kasungu and Dowa, the soy bean and groundnut plots are blossoming. This year, Malawi has been blessed with plenty of rain, and as you drive from the capital, Lilongwe, up North to Kasungu, one can see shoulder high maize interspersed with tobacco, groundnuts and soya. Tobacco and Maize, which are exclusively grown by men, are obviously the dominant crops all along the road, but women’s groundnut and soya fields are beginning to break up the landscape.
The CARE Malawi Pathways team is visiting women’s cooperatives to see how they are progressing. In the first Pathways community, a traditionally Dzole area, we are welcomed by 15 singing and dancing women, who are happy to see their soya and groundnut demonstration gardens blossoming. “Our soy and groundnuts are really doing well. We have trial plots demonstrating good crop management, early and late planting, as well as, planting density.” As one farmer said to the team, all the lessons picked up from the demonstration plots are being applied on their farms.
The farmers expect a high yield this season and the women are particularly excited about their soy and groundnut fields. Though the groundnuts are not doing as well as expected, due to the fact that the farmers feel that the seeds that they procured were not of the right quality, they are still positive on the potential of a good harvest.
Along with producing a good harvest, the women are also concerned with marketing their crops. Worried about the market and wanting to show progress to CARE, the farmers discuss anticipated marketing challenges, and how these will be overcome. Experience from the previous harvest, where a trader took farmers product and didn’t pay, is still fresh in their minds. The women will have to work hard to ensure that adequate market planning, coupled with lots of farmer and buyer meetings in March and April, leave them prepared for the anticipated the May harvest.
During our visit, the Pathways team discussed the potential traders to target, with the goal of finding the most suitable markets for the farmers. Some of the traders identified include; Rab processors, Export trading Company, Central Poultry feeds limited and Lebo commodity trading. Selection of the right buyers will be dependent on the buyer’s conditions that are most favorable to the producing groups.
The women are enthusiastic and looking forward to a good harvest and developing long term buying relationship with reliable buyers. They are particularly excited about the opportunity to interact directly with traders, and are hopeful that they won’t have to deal with middle men and agents, who they believe, take the bulk of the profit and block them from forming direct relationships with the “big” buyers.
Pathways as a program aims to empower women to participate effectively in agricultural production and through improved production practices. The enthusiasm and expectation of the women farmers is an indication that these women are moving upwards to better livelihoods. Improvement of productivity and links to markets are critical components of the program.
Over the next two months, the Malawi team will work with the farmers intensively to ensure that the marketing of their product is organized and effective. As part of this process the team will work with the farmers to conduct participatory market opportunity identification visits, conduct participatory cost benefit analysis with the farmers and agree on sales scheduling and planning. The groups have elected market committees that will spearhead this process.
Technical Advisor Economic Development and Market Engagement,