Malawi: Farmers earn cash from watermelons despite poor markets

| October 26, 2015

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Robert Sosola was a man with serious financial challenges. Every year, his income from maize was dwindling. So he looked for crops which could earn him more money. In 2010, Mr. Sosola participated in a farmers’ field day in a nearby village. At the field day, he discovered watermelon. He found out that the large, sweet fruits are a lucrative cash crop which can be intercropped with maize.

He started out in 2011 by buying five small packets of watermelon seeds for US$3. He planted the seeds in his half-hectare field near Funsani, a village 30 kilometres north of Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe. Just three months later, he harvested his first crop.

Mr. Sosola’s field lies on the banks of the Vzyanzi River. It features two small dams which are close to the river, which never runs dry during the growing season. This is fortunate because watermelons need a lot of water.

Mandaliza Mtambo also grows watermelons in Funsani. He says that it’s a good business because the fruit is quick to mature and requires few inputs. Mr. Mtambo says, “I apply a small [amount of] fertilizer … seven days after planting, and [some more] after 21 days. I also use manure to ensure that my watermelons are big, sweet, and tasty.”

Like all farmers, watermelon producers must manage common pests and diseases and follow good agricultural practices. Mr. Mtambo adds, “I learnt from the extension worker that it is … good for farmers [to plant new] seed in order to avoid some diseases; hence I always buy seed from the shops.”

There is a huge demand for watermelon in Mr. Sosola’s area. Last season, middlemen visited farms and paid US$0.60 per watermelon. But when Mr. Sosola visited Lilongwe, he got a big surprise—watermelons were selling for twice that price!

In 2014, Mr. Sosola sold about 350 watermelons to vendors. He says: “I made about US$200 from watermelons in three months, [something] which I have never achieved from maize. But the vendors are benefitting more than us farmers. Sometimes they buy watermelons from farmers on loan and pay back [only] after a long time.”

Mr. Sosola can support his family by selling watermelons. But he wants to find a better market and increase his profits.

So he plans to travel to Lilongwe to sell the fruit to shops, hotels, and other buyers who offer good prices. He says, “[I’d like to] supply them [direct] instead of selling to vendors … because I am losing a lot of profit.”