Challenges Malawi agribusiness project is showing early successes

VAC business training Crops
The first year of Creating Robust Opportunities for Crop Production and Sale

In October 2018, Challenges launched its Creating Robust Opportunities for Crop Production and Sale (CROPS) project in Malawi. Funded by the Scottish Government, CROPS is an ambitious five-year agribusiness programme that aims to improve the livelihoods of thousands of rural farmers and their families in four districts in Malawi.

Challenges Malawi CROPS project VAC trainers trade

VAC staff at a trade fair with CROPS products.

With a focus on business and co-operative development, CROPS seeks to increase household incomes of 6200 rural farmers in four districts – Nkhotakota, Salima, Machinga and Chikwawa – by 10% by 2023. The project is being run in collaboration with Opportunity International, a network of more than 40 organisations, with a focus on microfinance institutions.

Central to this programme is improving the value chains of a range of Malawian crops, as well as enabling and promoting value addition and processing activities, boosting institutional capacity building, and improving access to finance and reliable markets. Ultimately, increasing yields of better quality products with improved routes to markets will generate greater incomes for Malawian farmers, thus contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal No. 8 (Decent work and economic growth).

Adding Value and Early Milestones

At the heart of the CROPS project are four Value Addition Centres (VACs). These centres were set up by the Malawian government to help commercialise agriculture, but had lain dormant until the commencement of Challenges’ CROPS project.

Challenges Group Business raining Malawi

Business training in Malawi.

An early milestone of the CROPS was the training of eight farmers as machine operators to operate the VAC machinery as well as the appointment and subsequent training of four business development officers who are VAC trainers and  managers.  The project further recruited and trained 4 agriculture extension officers to facilitate agricultural trainings in order to increase crop productivity.

Within each VAC is machinery to process and package agricultural products supplied by a government project called SIVAP (Smallholder Irrigation and Value Addition Project) that ended in December 2018. The project is also working on improving crop production and rotation, providing business training to both farmers and VAC staff, and facilitation of access to markets for the processed goods. The products being processed by the VACs include, but are not limited to, rice, high quality cassava flour, cooking oil, and pigeon pea (dry tool dhall). With crop rotation and diversification a key part of the CROPS project, over the term of the programme this list will grow as new products are trialled.

As each local VAC team works to develop the capacity and efficiency of the VACs, Challenges Malawi has been working with farmers in 10 irrigation schemes to increase the productivity of their crops and enhance the aggregation of crops and enable greater value addition.

CROPS results in focus
Challenges Malawi CROPS project

Challenges Malawi CROPS project.

With the project now well into its second year, it has already achieved substantial results. During the period April to September 2019, the CROPS project delivered or enabled:

  • a 60% increase in rice yield from winter farming, from 2.5 tonnes per hectare in the baseline, to 4 tonnes per hectare;
  • an average of £1,244 gross profit achieved by each VAC. The average revenue was £2,150 with expenses of £900 per VAC;
  • the production of 191 tonnes of organic fertilizer, a more sustainable and environmentally responsible solution to chemical fertilizer;
  • the establishment of demonstration plots for farmers in each district to learn new technologies in crop production, one of which is the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). This allows farmers to increase productivity while using less water and less organic fertilizer;
  • the identification and engagement of – on average – four new commercial buyers per VAC as part of a wider campaign of marketing activity that included representation at trade fairs and buyers’ markets;
  • the increase in the price per tonne of VAC processed crops from £588 to £749 per tonne, representing 27% average increase;
  • training of 2,845 farmers (928 males, 1341 females, 550 youth, 20 elderly, 6 disabled). This included:
    • training of 150 lead farmers (63 males, 52 females, 35 youth) aimed at equipping them with the skills and experience to deliver farmer-to-farmer services that reached an additional 1,385 farmers (707 males, 678 females);
    • training of 660 farmers (317 males, 343 females) in post-harvest handling to reduce losses in crop quantity and quality for processing;
    • training – and subsequent job creation – of four agricultural extension officers (3 males, 1 female) to enable them deliver agricultural trainings to farmers;
    • training – and subsequent job creation – of four business development officers (3 males, 1 female) to enable them effectively deliver business and co-operative management trainings to VAC members. The training was conducted by two trainers from Challenges Rwanda;
    • training – – and subsequent job creation – of eight VAC machine operators (7 males, 1 male) in machine operation and maintenance in order to equip them with processing and machine maintenance skills at each of the VACs;
    • training of 15 board of directors (all males) in leadership, governance and financial management. This allowed them to provide oversight role in VAC operations, and increase transparency and accountability within the VACs. One outcome of this was that all four VACs now have a functioning Board of Directors able to conduct quarterly board meetings;
    • training of 64 members (40 males, 24 females) of VAC executive committees in leadership, governance and financial management. This enhanced their skills in day to day management of VAC activities. This led to greater transparency and accountability within the VACs by setting up accounting and administration systems.

 

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