Soybean Counters: Malawi Farmers Surge from Subsistence to Profits

The Success: Yields more than doubled and profits rose to US $100,000 a year for members of the Bowe Farmer Association of Malawi.

The Elements of Success:

  • Farmer training combined with access to inputs dramatically increased yields.
  • Attention to post-harvest handling and secure storage improved quality and aggregation of harvests.
  • Links to millers provided a reliable market.
  • Local banks supplied financing to pay for storage and inputs.

AGRA Partners: Catholic Development Commission (CADECOM) provided training; Demter, ACE, and Auction Holdings and Commodity Exchange of Lilongwe advised on grain quality; World Food Programme offered conditional purchasing contract; Malawi Ministry of Agriculture supported warehouse construction; FDH Bank of Lilongwe provided financing.

After years of struggling with poor yields and shoddy storage, harvests and profits have surged for members of the Bowe Farmers Association.

The difference started with the Catholic Development Commission (CADECOM), an AGRA partner in Malawi that offered association members training in how to improve basic farm practices, like better ways to prepare their land, apply fertilizers and plant their soybean.

Production among members quickly rose, from 800 tons to over 2,000 tons. Meanwhile, association member attended an AGRA-organized conference where they met with grain buyers and learned about quality requirements.  Purchasers from the World Food Programme and several millers from the Malawi capital of Lilongwe offered tentative contracts to the association that were contingent on the soybeans meeting strict standards for quality and quantity.

With assistance from CADECOM, the association purchased scales and moisture meters. AGRA and the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture contributed to the construction of a pair of grain warehouses.  FDA Bank in Lilongwe provided loans for completing the projects and purchasing improved seed and fertilizer.

The overall result: farmers were able to consistently produce, store, and deliver a large supply of high-quality soybean that earned about US $100,000 a year for its member, who now number about 1,000. It was enough revenue that the group recently purchased milling plant for soybean oil as a way to add value to their harvest and keep revenue flowing in the off-season.

The Lesson: Farmer associations can help smallholder farmers link to larger buyers, as long as they also have access to improved inputs, the training to know how to use them, financing to build infrastructure, and the handling skills and storage capacity to deliver a quality product.

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