May 2014—During the 2012-2013 growing season, many farmers in Malawi were affected by extended drought. But the Mtumbwe farmers of Balaka district were thriving, successfully selling their crops to the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), earning profits as never before.
The Mtumbwe farmers are a group of 125 smallholders who receive support from a USAID food assistance program run by a Catholic Relief Services-led consortium.
For many years, these farmers had grown pigeon peas, mostly for their own households. In times of surplus, the extra peas would go to waste because the farmers were unable to sell them, lacking access to a market. During the 2012-2013 lean season, WFP alerted the food assistance program that pigeon peas were needed as part of a relief effort. After the program taught them new farming and marketing methods, the Mtumbwe farmers combined their production and, for the first time, collectively sold 13.8 metric tons of pigeon peas to WFP.
“The most exciting thing about the sale to WFP was that we were able to earn a fair market price of 120 kwacha a kilogram. In the past, other buyers would offer only 60 kwacha a kilogram and we would have to accept it because we didn’t know other buyers or the market prices. We had never experienced a buyer who had offered a fair price,” explained Frank Zagwa, the local farming and marketing adviser of the group.
“With better proceeds, I was able to budget for my household spending and expand my farming,” said Rhoda Liwani, a chairwoman of the Mtumwe farmers group. “Previously, when I was selling as an individual, it was hard to find markets and I only earned small amounts of money, which made it difficult to plan for the future.”
The sale to WFP motivated Liwani and her group to collectively sell other crops. Over the past year, the group has increased the production volume and collective sales of chilies, groundnuts and cow peas. They hope to sell to WFP in the future and are considering formally linking with WFP’s Purchase for Progress initiative. This will allow them to sell to WFP through a direct contract and participate in bids for smallholder farmers only in addition to making public sales through the Agriculture Commodity Exchange for Africa.
With unprecedented market access through WFP, the Mtumbwe farmers and their families can provide for themselves and are not among those needing food assistance under WFP’s relief response this year. In fact, their entire Traditional Authority, similar to a U.S. township, is not receiving assistance, indicative of the ripple effects improved incomes and market activity have on the wider community.
Farmers like Liwani and Zagwa are now able to help fellow Malawians like Eneti Wilson, a smallholder farmer who cares for her five children and husband in Mchinji district. Her village was hit by prolonged dry spells in the 2012-2013 growing season that devastated her crops.
“With no rain, my crops dried out, and when harvest time began in April, I had nothing,” said Wilson, 29. “I couldn’t even buy a pail of maize because the money I earned [doing informal agriculture work] was so little.”
With support from USAID, in October 2013, Wilson and her family started receiving WFP food assistance. “Before, we could only have one meal a day. We chose to eat at night in order to have energy in the morning to go work. Now I can prepare delicious food for my family three times a day. We are healthy as you can see,” she said breaking into laughter.
Wilson is also receiving assistance through WFP partner CADECOM. WFP has linked resilience-building activities by CADECOM—such as learning new agricultural development techniques and saving money through village savings and loan groups—to the emergency response to help beneficiaries move off humanitarian assistance in the future.
Wilson and her family are part of nearly 1.9 million Malawians WFP and USAID are assisting this year through these efforts.
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Last updated: March 18, 2015