Farming First TV interviewed Keith Polo, Managing Director of Tukula Farming Company, and Country Director at the Clinton Development Initiative, to find out more about the process that agribusinesses in Malawi are following, in order to become more inclusive of smallholder farmers. Continue reading
Work has been taking place in Malawi to enable farmers’ to achieve the grades and standards required to take part in broader markets. Whilst a lack of technical and financial capacities is often the greatest hindrance to meeting these targets, which cover food safety, quality, social and environmental standards, the ever-changing nature of the standards themselves exacerbates the challenges facing smallholder farmers.
Since 2003, ICRISAT have been working with the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM) to establish a “hybrid” system for ensuring achievement of standard requirements for the export of groundnuts from smallholder farmers’ associations in Malawi.
The project’s focus on groundnuts is the result of severe decline in the crop’s production, due to changing market requirements overseas, unavailability of seed in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices, and poor post-harvest handling.
Groundnuts are affected by aflatoxins, a naturally-occurring fungus which can infect crops during pod development or through poor post-harvest practices. Increasingly strict maximum allowable levels (MALs) of aflatoxin contamination in the European Union have prevented smallholder producers from accessing the European high-value markets.
According to the World Bank, the reduction of MALs to 4 parts per billion of aflatoxin has results in annual losses of over US$670 million for African countries.
The ICRISAT and NASFEM project objectives were:
- To increase productivity of groundnuts by providing improved varieties and the accompanying crop management options.
- To develop a system of grades and standards to enable smallholder farmers to participate in regional and international markets.
- To assist in development of a Market Information System.
Alongside training farmers in improved agricultural practices to increase yields and improve crop quality, the “hybrid” system created ‘production standards’ that would ensure farmers follow best practice to reduce the chances of infection by the fungus. These targets complement the ‘performance standards’ that are used in European markets, which determine the levels of a contaminant in a product.
The team also established an aflatoxin analytical laboratory in Malawi to help identify the sources of contamination and provide the necessary solutions, to help increase farmers’ chances of meeting the MALs.
Other steps also included organising farming groups into clubs who sell their produce at designated areas to allow for easy traceability.
ICRISAT has written,
The ability to accurately detect and quantify aflatoxin contamination at an affordable cost, allowed farmers in Malawi to re-establish groundnut exports to the quality-conscious European market, and stimulated interest in the approach in Mozambique and Zambia. Many other African countries are benefiting from this technology and appropriate management practices that reduce the initial aflatoxin contamination are being employed.
A new study released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) – “Fertlizer Subsidies in Africa: Are Vouchers the Answer?” – looks at the efficacy of providing fertilizer vouchers for African farmers to improve their livelihoods and the productivity of their crops.
The findings discuss the fact that the impact which fertilizer subisidies have depends on existing farmer knowledge and the external conditions of the local area. The best justifications for these subsidies are when farmers are unfamiliar with the benefits of fertilizer or are too poor to purchase it themselves, or when there is demonstrated profitability to be had and a sufficient distribution network for accessing those being targeted.
The authors review both sides of the debate and argue for “smart” subsidies, which do not undercut the development of efficient, broad markets and target the areas where the most benefit can be found.
Nonethless, African farmers still use on average only about one-seventh the amount of fetilizer that other developing countries use. And, the recent successes of Malawi’s input subsidy programme (watch the Farming First interview with the coordinator of this programme here) have made the subject of fertlizer vouchers and greater agricultural support a new priority for many African governments.
Minot, N., and T. Benson. 2009. Fertilizer subsidies in Africa: Are vouchers the answer? Issue Brief 60. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.
After attending the G8 summit in Italy earlier last week, President Obama immediately flew down to Ghana, in his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since being elected President.
Obama’s trips to Italy and Ghana both served to demonstrate his public support for an increased focus on the needs of farmers, particularly those without sufficient access to the tools they need to farm efficiently and feed themselves.
In Italy, Obama said:
There is no reason why Africa cannot be self-sufficient when it comes to food. It has sufficient arable land. What’s lacking is the right seeds, the right irrigation, but also the kinds of institutional mechanisms that ensure that a farmer is going to be able to grow crops, get them to market, get a fair price.
In a recent Bloomberg article, Farming First’s Ajay Vashee, President of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP), discussed the need for African farmers to have better access to the seeds and fertilizers they needed to increase their yields and improve their livelihoods as farmers.
Vashee particularly noted the success of Malawi’s farm input subsidy programme, which has been running for the past five years and which has served as a model for neighboring countries.
The Bloomberg article noted that Tanzania began a fertilizer-subsidy programme last December, that Kenya has announced a similar subsidy plan to boost yields, and that the Ugandan government had increased spending on agriculture by 47 per cent in its latest budget.
In preparation for his trip to Ghana, Obama discussed the role that governments should play in driving progress in African development goals, quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal article:
Countries that are governed well, that are stable, where the leadership recognizes that they are accountable to the people and that institutions are stronger than any one person have a track record of producing results for the people.
In May, Farming First interviewed the coordinator of Malawi’s farm subsidy programme and Principal Economist in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr. Idrissa Mwale. Watch the video here:
In May 2009, Farming First (farmingfirst.org) interviewed Mr. Idrissa Mwale, Principal Economist at the Ministry of Agriculture in Malawi. Mr. Mwale has coordinated the country’s farm subsidy programme, which targets the most needy farming households with subsidised seed and fertilizer. The programme has produced record harvests over the past four years, which have created an export market for Malawi’s farmers. Mr. Mwale discusses the next steps for the programme and how other African governments are learning from the agricultural programme as a driver of rural development.
Watch the video:
Mr Mwale was also interviewed by BBC’s World Business News.
Listen to the BBC interview audio file here:[audio:bbcwbnewsidrissamwale.mp3]
Mr. Mwale also presented a speech on the successes of the programme at the UN Commission for Sustainable Development on 14 May 2009. In his speech, he discusses why and how agriculture should be put back at the center of the development agenda. He also notes how the Farming First principles align well with the programme Malawi has been following to date:
…this achievement came about because the Government of Malawi made a choice to prioritize the agricultural sector. This allowed the Government and various cooperating partners to increase investments in inputs provision, extension service delivery and agricultural research. This notwithstanding, the Government still believes that more investments in agricultural research, local based capacity building, irrigation development and marketing are necessary to spur increased and sustain production in the medium to long term. This is consistent with the Farming First principles of the partners hosting us tonight.
For the full text:
CNFA established credit insurance in 2001 in Malawi to guarantee repayment of half of the money borrowed by agricultural input retailers to stock their shops.
This greatly expanded the number of rural distributors and decreased the distances farmers travelled to obtain inputs, sometimes quite dramatically, resulting in savings in both time and travel costs.
By 2005, retailers covered by the guarantees earned more than $1 million (plus a significant amount not underwritten by the credit insurance). Their success boosted local economies, raised Government tax receipts and increased the provision of non-agricultural services.
After the 2005 food crisis, the Government distributed seeds and fertilizers in order to prevent the situation from worsening. The 2006 maize crop rebounded significantly, but the impact on private-sector retailers was devastating: commercial sales of fertilizers slumped by 60-70 per cent.
A coalition engaged with the Government to transform the support programme into a private-public partnership. Retail sales have since recovered.