Strengthening Farmer Organizations in Malawi

by Paida Mpaso and Dr. Christone Nyondo - NAPAS:Malawi

Farmer Organizations (FOs) are critical for achieving economies of scale in production, accessing inputs and output markets and support services, especially for smallholder farmers. In addition, FOs are critical for strengthening farmers’ bargaining position in markets and making their voices heard in the policy space. However, few of existing FOs in Malawi are functional. Some have struggled to sustain themselves after closure of the projects that established them. Some of the constraints facing FOs are:

a)  Weak capitalization;
b)  Weak governance;
c)  Lack of business skills by individual members of FOs;
d)  Founder syndrome and elite capture;
e)  Lack of market information; and
f)   High dependency on external support.

The Government of Malawi (GoM) made efforts to address these constraints through introduction of the Cooperative Development Policy (CDP) in 1997 and Cooperative Societies Act (CSA) in 1998. However, little progress has been made in developing effective Farmer Organizations. This is why the National Agriculture Policy (NAP) 2016 and the National Agricultural Investment Plan (NAIP) 2018 includes strengthening Farmer’s Organisations as one way of achieving commercialization of Agriculture in Malawi. The New Alliance Policy Acceleration Support Project (NAPAS:Malawi) is supporting the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development (MoAIWD) to develop a Farmer Organisation Development Strategy (FODS) with funding from United States Agency for International Development  (USAID).

The FODS will among other things:

a)  Provide a framework for increased bargaining power for better input and output prices for farmers;
b)  Promote increased access to farm inputs and agricultural finance by farmers;
c)  Help reduce unemployment and increase the purchasing power and real wages of farmers by connecting them to economic opportunities with greater remunerative potential

As one way of ensuring that views from stakeholders are incorporated in the Strategy, six steps were undertaken as follows:

Farmer organization event: This was the first consultation event on development of the FODS. It was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development (MoAIWD) with technical and financial support of the NAPAS: Malawi Project. The event took place in June 2016 and attracted at least 182 participants (40 females or 22%) from 129 farmer and civil society organizations, cooperatives, associations and other farmer groups. Farmer answered 13 questions relating to the challenges they are facing in their FOs, what interventions they think should be implemented to address them and what their priorities regarding the development of FOs are. Among other issues, farmers indicated that the FODS should emphasize cooperatives over other forms of farmer organizations.

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Dr. Albert Changaya, making his opening remarks at the National Consultation on the zero draft of the FODS, 27th February 2018 - Photo by Paida Mpaso

Literature review: The second step focused on reviewing literature on the theory of cooperatives, the status of agricultural cooperatives in Malawi and how farmer organizations, such as cooperatives, or farmer associations could be run as successful business entities.

FODS Stakeholder Consultations: The third step involved administering a short survey to various stakeholder organizations. A total of 28 government, private and non-governmental organizations were interviewed on FO related issues (e.g. on capacity building, access to finance, data management, among others).

The fourth step was a Cooperative Sector Mapping Study Dissemination Conference organized by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism with technical and financial support of GIZ, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), NAPAS:Malawi and other stakeholders that were part of the task force overseeing review of the Cooperative Policy and Development of the Cooperative strategy and the FODS. The event was held on 11–12 October 2017, with 35 participants in attendance. Other participants present were We-effect, Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM), National Association of Smallholder Farmers in Malawi (NASFAM) and Malawi Union of Savings and Credit Cooperatives (MUSCCO).

The fifth step was the drafting of the FODS background paper and the FODS zero draft.

The sixth step was the National Consultation on the zero draft of the FODS. The zero draft was presented on 27th of February 2018. Eighty-four participants belonging to cooperatives, farmer associations, farmer clubs and anchor farms, came from the three regions of Malawi to attend the workshop. Among the prominent participants was the President of the Farmers Union of Malawi, Mr. Alfred Kapichira Banda who commended the inclusion of youth participants at the consultation. He implored the government to seriously figure out how the agricultural sector can be made attractive to youths (e.g. by encouraging mechanization). He lamented the fact that after 54 years of independence from the Colonial Government, Malawians are still using a hoe to farm.

The Controller of Agricultural Extension and Technical Services (CAETS), Dr. Albert Changaya, said that one of the strategies outlined in the National Agriculture Policy (NAP) under priority area number 8 “institutional development, coordination and capacity strengthening” is to “promote the development of professionally-operated and efficient farmer organizations, particularly cooperatives.” Therefore, the Ministry came up with this Strategy in recognition of the critical role farmer organizations play in promoting economies of scale in production, increasing the bargaining position of farmers in the market place and making farmers’ voices heard in the policy space.

He further said that the development of the FODS was also recognized as an important area of policy reform in the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition Cooperation Framework that Malawi signed to in December 2013. His speech can be accessed here.

Assistant Chief Agricultural Extension Officer (ACAEO) Pearson Soko said that a comprehensive capacity building programme for farmer organizations is critical if the Strategy is to achieve the desired results. He said that the relevant ministries and departments, including non-governmental organizations must take up their role to train farmers, otherwise, registering cooperatives is not enough.

Further, Soko highlighted the need for a robust marketing strategy for all farmer organizations saying, it’s important that the registered cooperatives must have a clear and spelt out marketing strategy for their produce.

NAPAS: Malawi Policy Analyst, Dr. Christone Nyondo said, “If fully implemented, the Farmer Organization Strategy (FODS) will be a real game charger in the farmer organizations movement in Malawi because it will facilitate the integration of smallholders into remunerative markets, thereby lifting them out of subsistence farming and poverty.”

The FODS is planned to be validated and submitted to the MoAIWD for adoption and implementation in April 2018.

VIDEO: Encouraging and Strengthening Cooperatives