Malawi: Farmers boost nutrition and profit by processing soy into milk, yoghurt, and tofu

| February 26, 2018

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The district of Mchinji in the Central Region of Malawi is a busy trading hub for agro dealers, fruit and vegetable vendors, and other small businesses. The district is 100 kilometres from the capital city of Lilongwe, and 25 kilometres from the Zambian border, which makes it a popular crossroads with lots of restaurants, guesthouses, and second-hand clothing stores. In the centre of town is Tayamba Cooperative: a community-based soy processing company that sells soy milk and yoghurt.

Tayamba started in 2009 as a support group to help people living with HIV and AIDS improve their incomes and diets. The group launched a processing company in 2011. Since then, Tit has grown from 35 to 133 members, including 48 women. It is now open to people not living with HIV and AIDS.

Tayamba started by using a traditional mortar and pestle to pound soybeans to make soy milk. Since the task was laborious and time-consuming, they asked the government for help. In 2011, they borrowed a processing machine through a development program called One Village One Product. The group members learned how to operate the machine and started to process soy milk, tofu, and yoghurt. In the early days, the group earned 3,000 to 4,000 kwacha (US$4 to $5.50) a day. Now the co-operative sells just milk and yoghurt.

Cornelius Mwaungulu is from Njerenje village in Mchinji District. He is the chairperson of the co-operative. He says: “At first, it was difficult to convince consumers to buy soy milk as they were always comparing the milk with cow’s milk, but we overcame this by using flyers and radio adverts on our community radio station, Mudziwathu Radio Station.”

But another problem emerged in 2014: the processing machine broke down. There seemed to be no way to fix the machine, as spare parts were only available in India. It seemed like all hope was lost, and membership dwindled.

But in 2017, an international business called Palladium International stepped in. Through a US-funded program called Feed the Future, the group got a new processing machine worth US$8,000. It enabled the co-operative to bounce back into business.

Mwaungulu smiles as he shows off the new processing machine. He says that, by turning their soybeans into soy milk and yoghurt, members can double what they would make selling unprocessed beans. He adds that one kilogram of soybeans can be sold raw for 170 kwacha (US$0.23), or processed into six litres of milk, which sells for 4,800 kwacha (US$6.54). This means that, for each 50-kg bag of soybeans, Tayamba can earn 240,000 kwacha (US$327), compared to 8,500 kwacha (US$12) sold raw.

He says: “Enough is enough. Farmers have to reap the benefits from processing soybean, and the time has come for farmers to do value addition [rather than] selling raw soybean.”
Mr. Mwaungulu hopes the co-operative will expand. He says the group plans to buy soybeans from more farmers, including non-members.

He adds that the Malawi Bureau of Standards is now in the process of certifying the co-op’s factory. Members are training in order to meet the new standards.

Margaret Mzungu is a nutrition lead with Feed the Future in Malawi. She says the soy processing project helps people diversify and improve their diets. Apart from assisting Tayamba Cooperative, the organization has also installed four soy processing machines and distributed mini-soy kits to 30 households. These kits allow farmers without electricity to process small quantities of soy milk, tofu, and yoghurt at home.

As part of the project’s activities, Tayamba members will learn business management and food processing skills such as food safety and hygiene.

Mrs. Mzungu explains: “Apart from business skills, the members are being trained in facility hygiene, personal hygiene, food safety, and hygiene practices in food processing … to ensure that the consumers get quality, safe soy milk and yoghurt.”

Beaming, she adds, “So far, we have received impressive reports from the field in terms of January sales … they are making profits.”

Frequent power outages affect most businesses in Malawi. To deal with this, the program also has a manual grinder so members can process soybeans even during power interruptions.

Tom Agwa Agalo is a Kenya-based agro-processing engineer who trained the co-operative members. He is impressed with the co-operative’s marketing strategy, and thinks it has great potential. He says: “They have committed members with marketing skills, they have basic equipment, and they have the system in place. The co-operative could become one of the best in Malawi and Africa.”

He says that, apart from increasing incomes for individuals and the co-operative, the nutritional status of people in the district will improve because soybeans are high in protein. He adds that soy strengthens bones and is both cheap and nutritious, which is why it is good for both human and livestock food.

Pauline Mbukwa is a communications specialist for the USAID Feed the Future Malawi Agriculture Diversification Activity, for Farm Radio Trust.