Life hasn’t been easy for 31-year-old Gelson Phesele in the 12 years since he finished secondary school. After he got married, he had to work hard to feed his family of three children.
Mr. Phesele started by growing tobacco, but low prices for the cash crop failed to generate enough income to support his family. He started growing groundnuts alongside tobacco in 2008 to supplement his income, and now realizes that he can make more profits with groundnuts than tobacco.
Mr. Phesele hails from Nkhwawe village in Mchinji district, about 100 kilometres west of Lilongwe. He is one of the many farmers in Malawi who are switching from growing tobacco to growing legumes.
He says he was spending too much money just to sell his tobacco. He explains, “When I was growing tobacco, I used to pay more for transport. But with groundnuts, I travel a short distance of about 25 kilometres to sell my groundnuts.”
Mr. Phesele has no regrets about putting more of his energy into groundnuts. He says: “I once grew tobacco for eight years, but when going to sell at the auction floors, they were buying it at 400 kwacha ($0.56 US) per kilogram…. Groundnuts were selling at 550 kwacha ($0.78 US) per kilogram.”
This season, he expects to make 300,000 kwacha ($420 US) from his 10 bags of groundnuts. He adds, “I cannot make this much in tobacco sales nowadays because buyers determine prices.”
Sophie Chibenthu is the agriculture extension worker in Mchinji district. She commends the government of Malawi for liberalizing agricultural markets. She explains, “People have the choice of selling their produce, which makes buyers compete whenever they want to buy produce from farmers.”
Things are different in the tobacco market, where buyers have more power to determine the price. That’s why Mrs. Chibenthu is urging farmers like Mr. Phesele to concentrate on groundnut farming.
She also encourages farmers to market in groups in order to fetch a higher price. She explains, “When farmers are in a group, they are able to find good markets where they offer good prices. Most co-operatives are selling their produce to big companies who offer good prices.”
Marketing in a group can also help farmers avoid being cheated by untrustworthy buyers. Mr. Phesele has had experience with some buyers trying to take advantage of farmers by using unreliable equipment.
He explains: “Even the Malawi Bureau of Standards is not coming to rural areas to check if the scales are reliable when buying farm produce. I remember one of the intermediate buyers who wanted to buy my groundnuts using a scale that was tampered with, with the aim of cheating farmers on prices.”
Now that he is aware of the challenges of marketing, Mr. Phesele knows how to navigate the marketplace to fetch the best price for his groundnuts and ensure that he can support his family.