Malawi’s agriculture faces many challenges chief of whom is lack of extension services among rural subsistence farmers who form the largest farming population in Malawi. While the recommended extension worker farmer ratio is 1-750, an average extension worker covers 3000 farmers. Apart from this, most farmers, especially those far from major trading centres, do not have access to quality seeds and farm inputs. This affects their output and development as farmers.
Private sector involvement is key to unlocking the wealth that such farmers can realize from farming. The establishment of hub agro-dealerships in some parts of the country is helping rid this problem. Under the Strengthening fertilizer systems through promotion of appropriate fertilizer blends in Malawi Project, The African Fertilizers and Agribusiness Partnerships (AFAP), is supporting hub agro-dealers in providing extension services and quality inputs to rural subsistence farmers. This project is being funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), International Fund for International Development (IFAD) and other donor partners.
Through the same project, AFAP has employed Extension workers that are attached to agro-dealers to support farmers in their catchment areas. Beatrice Lewani, 22, is one of them. She is a graduate of Malawi’s agricultural university, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR). She is an extension worker attached to one of the agro dealers in the central district of Dedza. She is now working with Mawindo Agro-dealers in the central district of Dedza.
“I am working with 4500 farmers, providing them with extension services,” says the young agriculturalist adding that she has managed to supply 2000 farmers with farm inputs in the 2019-2020 growing season. “We work with government extension workers to ensure that more farmers are being served. Farmers are now learning to pull resources together and buying inputs at once. This gives them an advantage of purchasing at a lower price and ensures they get quality certified inputs”.
While the project has assisted farmers in getting extension services and quality fertilizers and other inputs, it has also supported the growth of the agro dealers through capacity building and boosts in sales.
The project has also trained community agri-business advisers CAAs) who also provide extension services to fellow farmers. The CAAs work as link persons between the agro-dealers and the farmers.
“We are also running demonstrations and trials of different farming technologies in the farmers’ fields so that they can chose what best suits their needs,” says the Lewani.
Peter Mawindo of Mawindo Agro-Dealers is one of the agro-dealers benefitting from the project. He has five outlets in Dedza district. He says his business has benefitted a lot from the project. “Our sales have increased since the extension worker joined us. More farmers are coming to buy from us because apart from quality inputs, they are also receiving professional advice,” Says Mawindo who started his business in 1995.
“I have learnt the importance of having a qualified agriculturalist as a business dealing with small scale farmers. I will still need an extension worker even after the project finishes. I know how important this is,” he says.
AFAP Malawi Country Manager, Pyness Thembulembu, says 11 agro-dealers across the country have been supported under the Promotion of Fertilizer Blends through Promotion of Area Specific Fertilizers Project.
“One of the problems facing small scale farmers is the influx of fake inputs in their areas. This project has allowed them access to certified and quality inputs through the hub agro-dealers that are supplied by the legitimate fertilizer and seed companies,” Says Thembulembu.
“Our farmers are experimenting and seeing results in demonstration plots right in their villages. They are able to determine which farming methods and inputs give them more yield. They are easily adopting the new technologies because they can see the results with their own eyes.
The project, worth $645,000, is financed under Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA) leveraging the support provided by development partners under Multi donor trust fund and IFAD. It is being implemented by the Department of Land Resources Conservations, AFAP and Story Workshop Education Trust.
It aims to fast-track finalization of national soil nutrient deficient maps, develop and validate area specific fertilizer blends and create awareness on new fertilizer blends.