It’s four o’clock in the morning, but Alice Kawaye is already awake in her well-thatched grass house. The 38-year-old farmer is cleaning utensils and preparing breakfast for her husband and children. After finishing the household chores, she puts 10 bags of groundnuts in the ox cart, ready to join other farmers in her co-operative. They are waiting for a buyer at a member’s house.
Mrs. Kawaye says she avoids selling her produce to middlemen, which is why she sells through the co-operative. She explains, “In the past, it was a routine selling my groundnuts to vendors … I was earning little compared to what I invested. This was holding me back as a woman.”
Mrs. Kawaye hails from Ntandwe village in Ntchisi district, 50 kilometres north of Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. The mother of four started farming in 2010, but her journey growing groundnuts had been frustrating due to poor markets.
For instance, Mrs. Kawaye made a big loss in 2016. She wanted to quit growing groundnuts and start growing other crops. She harvested only five bags of groundnuts from her two-and-a-half acres, and was left with only 10,000 Malawi kwacha (about $13.50 US) after selling to vendors.
According to Mrs. Kawaye, many women in her area have been excluded from marketing for many years, although they play a vital role in production. She says that societal roles and responsibilities, beliefs, and cultural norms dictate that men take the leading role in marketing. This leaves women with inadequate knowledge about profitable markets. As a result, women end up selling their groundnuts to vendors as individuals at very low prices.
Mrs. Kawaye explains: “As women, we had no chance to sell our groundnuts to better markets because of some myths in society, some of which said that women could not travel long distances to sell produce—as men jealously believed they would be seeing other men on their way or at the market.”
To deal with the challenge of selling to vendors, Mrs. Kawaye and other women joined Langa Co-operative. They got the idea from radio programs produced by Farm Radio Trust and aired on three radio stations: Zodiak Radio, Maziko Radio, and MBC Radio 1. The programs said that it’s easy for women and youth to access better markets if they form or join a co-operative.
Co-operatives can help farmers access better markets or simply get better prices because selling as a group means they can offer larger quantities and meet the demands of larger buyers.
Mrs. Kawaye says that, since she joined the co-operative earlier this year, she has learned a lot about groundnut marketing and no longer sells to vendors.
Katayeni Daniel is a 28-year-old farmer from nearby Nthundu village and also a member of Langa Co-operative. He says that, like the women, young farmers in the area also had no access to good markets because older men traditionally monopolize marketing of farm produce.
But through the co-operative, Mr. Daniel is now accessing markets that offer better prices. He says that being in a co-operative has been helpful to him as a young farmer.
He explains, “I am now able to send my children to school and feed my family from what I make when I sell my groundnuts through the co-operative.”
He adds: “Before, I used to earn 180,000 Malawi kwacha ($245 US) from groundnuts when I sold to vendors from my two hectares of land. But now I get about 250,000 Malawi kwacha ($340 US) because I sell through the co-operative.”
Mike Khonjera is the extension worker in Ntchisi district. He says the co-operative has helped women and youth to start accessing good markets, unlike in the past when they were marginalized.
Mrs. Kawaye says the co-operative has helped her with marketing and is happy that she can now enjoy the fruits of working hard on the farm instead of losing money.
She explains: “I am now able to pay school fees for my four children and feed my family from the profits I make when I sell my groundnuts to companies like National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi, who come to our area to buy from us through our co-operative.”
Uniterra is a program implemented by CECI-WUSC, working in Malawi with local partners in the tea, legumes and dairy sub-sectors to help youth and women access better economic opportunities. The objective is to reinforce the economic power of women and youth by developing their entrepreneurial spirit. The Uniterra program provided funding and technical support for the production of this story. CECI and WUSC are financially supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca.