When the Rural Market Development Trust (RUMARK) organized an Agro-dealer training in Zomba, then 22-year-old Phillip Yohane had registered to realize his dream of becoming a successful agro-dealer. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in 2014 launched a multi-partner initiative – Strengthening Agricultural Input and Output Markets in Africa (SAIOMA) which would benefit 30,000 smallholder farmers and 380 agro-dealers in six districts in Malawi’s Southern Region. The Rural Market Development Trust (RUMARK) led a consortium made up of the Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM), National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM) and Agriculture Commodity Exchange (ACE) to implement the program.
Young Phillip attended the training program and instead of starting an agro dealership business as he had wanted, he embarked on a path that would see hundreds of farmers in his area, Nasawa benefitting from a different AGRA financed project which would improve cassava seed production.
While the training workshop was taking place, a Program manager from the Cassava Value Addition for Africa (CAVA), a University of Malawi Chemistry department project, had come to introduce the Scaling up access to improved cassava varieties for sustainable value addition and markets in Malawi a Project which was starting under the USAID/AGRA Scaling Seeds and Technologies Partnerships (SSTP).
The young man was fascinated by the details of the coming project and thought people from his area would benefit if they participated. Many farmers in his area were growing indigenous cassava which was prone to disease attacks. “After the workshop, I went to meet CAVA officials and requested for the project to be introduced in my home area in Nasawa, Zomba. I consulted traditional leaders of the area and explained to them about cassava farming. They all showed interest in the project.” Said Phillip in an interview recently.
Today, Nasawa area in Zomba is awash with farmers growing modern cassava varieties which are mostly sold as seed to other farmers and organizations. Nasawa Cassava Cooperative, a dully registered cooperative society has also been formed.
Young Yohane started mobilizing people in his area and managed to group together 15 farmers. “Although I had assembled 15 farmers, only two were active.” Said Yohane. Patrick kaliwo, a School teacher in the area was the most active farmer that worked with Yohane and CAVA officials. “I started making money right from the first harvest” Said Kaliwo adding “I have become a leading cassava seed producer over the past three years. All the cassava that I have in the field now has already been bought.” After the first year of the project, the number of farmers doubled to 30 according to Yohane. In the 2015-2016 Season, the number rose even higher to over 70. He added that once the community realized that cassava farming is very profitable, they became interested in it. In the 2017/18 season, about 550 farmers have requested for cassava seed.
CAVA Program Manager Vito Sandifolo agrees with the young man. “The project came to this community through Phillip Yohane a young aspiring agro-dealer, who introduced us to farmers, community leaders and extension workers. A few key farmers to work with were identified in 2014.” Said Sandifolo whose organization had received a $298,000 grant from SSTP.
The Philosophy, according to Sandifolo, is to build a cluster of farmers close to a processing plant so that raw material supply is improved and also to empower farmers to make profits from raw material and seeds. With support from AGRA, planting materials were sourced from Chitedze Research Station in Lilongwe for farmers to start multiplying. He said, “We had four varieties of cassava. Two bitter ones and two sweet ones.”
Farmer Kaliwo explains that he planted an acre and sold the planting materials and roots to Universal industries, Malawi’s largest confectionery makers for processing. Other farmers developed an interest after witnessing his successes. “My main source of income is now cassava. One of my children has graduated from university while one is now in second year, another one is in secondary school. All these children are being educated by Cassava money” He said.
The CAVA Program Manager says the community is still embracing cassava farming and the “Community still being built, and its being used as source of planting materials for other farmers within the Nasawa and other areas with processing plants that are struggling with raw material supply.”
Phillip Yohane, now 26, is still working with the farmers. They have established a farmers’ cooperative which has been registered with Ministry of trade is in the process. They have plans to buy land for their processing plant.
As for Phillip Yohane, he has 1Ha of cassava which he plans to sell and use the money to open his long awaited agro dealer shop.