Malawi: National Agriculture Fair links small-scale farmers to markets (by Mark Ndipita, for Farm Radio Weekly in Malawi)

| September 12, 2011

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Elizabeth Malemi has been growing rice for the past decade. Marketing has been her greatest challenge. She says, “I have been growing rice as an individual and had been making little profit due to lack of markets.”

Mrs. Malemi hails from Tsirizani village in southeastern Nsanje District, Malawi. She harvests around 36 50-kilogram bags of rice per year. In 2009, Mrs. Malemi and other rice farmers in her community formed the Muona Rice Producers Co-operative. The farmers hoped that the co-operative would help them find markets.

But marketing problems still haunt Mrs. Malemi and other small-scale farmers. She explains: “There is little progress we have made as a co-operative in terms of finding markets for our rice. This has been so due to [the] lack of … forums for us to meet and discuss with potential buyers.” Usually, the farmers only meet buyers who come to their community. According to Mrs. Malemi, most buy at low prices.

Many small-scale farmers and many other co-operatives face similar challenges. In response, this year’s National Agriculture Fair aimed to expose farmers to new technological developments, markets, and financial arrangements.

Mrs. Erica Maganga is the Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. She says this year’s Fair is promoting partnerships between different actors in the agricultural sector. It also seeks to raise awareness that farming should be regarded as a business.

The Muona Rice Producers Co-operative participated in this year’s fair. Mrs. Malemi describes it as an eye-opener. She says, “As a farmer and as a member of the co-operative, I learned a lot from fellow farmers from other districts. We have made a lot of contacts that are now our potential markets.”

Anne Khamila also participated in the fair. She is a small-scale farmer from Wowo village in central west Phalombe District. She was also seeking markets for her rice. She says, “My family depends on rice farming for its livelihood. Low prices from vendors who come to my area are killing us.” She was glad to report that all the rice she brought to the fair had been sold. She adds, “I have also found people who are ready to buy my remaining produce at home.”

Anne Khamila says she has learned a lot: “I have learned how to add value to my rice. Packaging and proper processing of rice and grading will assist me a lot in my farming business.”

It wasn’t only rice farmers who attended the fair. Emily Mandiwa is a small-scale fruit farmer from Masimo village in Nsanje District. She brought juice made from fruits such as pawpaw, lemons, mango, pineapples and oranges. She says, “I have come under Chididi Fruit Juice and Marketing Co-operative. We have … come [to] find markets as well as to learn the prices for similar juices to check if we are overcharging or not.”

Mrs. Mandiwa said she has benefited and learned a lot from the agricultural fair, especially on adding value. She says, “ … we always complain that there are no markets, yet we do not add more value to our juices. We have seen how other farmers from different areas process, package and preserve their juices to attract more buyers.”

Whether the farmers were selling rice or fruit juice, they all left the fair with new ideas and new contacts.

The 8th National Agriculture Fair’ theme was “Value Addition for Increased Economic Returns.” It was held August 25-27, 2011 at the Chichiri Trade Fair Grounds in Blantyre, Malawi. The purpose of the fair this year was to bring together various players in the value chain to promote partnerships and share ideas to foster economic development.

For further news from Malawi about the National Agricultural Fair covered in this story, you can visit: