Planting the seeds of wealth
Seed handling and storage skills transform lives of farmers in Malawi
“We used to be hungry, but since I joined the cooperative, my food surplus is being sold at a good price which helps me pay for my daughter’s university fees.” This is how, Mary Kandaya, a small holder farmer in Zomba District, introduces herself.
Mary is part of a 150 member strong farmers group, which started in 2006, in Namangale, a small village in southern Malawi. Today, the initiative has expanded to 16 other villages in the area and has 2,800 farmers actively participating.
One of the biggest challenges Malawian smallholder farmers face is the lack of skills to handle and store their harvest, which allows their grain to be destroyed by rodents and weevils. As a result, they can lose about a third of their hard-earned yields within a few months after harvesting.
Since 2011, with funding from Flanders government, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been training members of farmers groups in post-harvest seed handling, seed grading, seed storage, bagging, warehouse management and financial management. Known as the “Purchase for Progress” project, participating farmers learn new skills and are advised on how to access markets. As a result, farmers enjoy a growth in their incomes.
“Before learning these skills, we were struggling to handle our seeds. Most of it would be destroyed after a few months.”
Having acquired these skills, farmers of the Namangale Cooperative have improved the quality of their produce and are able to sell their crops on the market, using the production and marketing skills gained through WFP’s training.
“Before learning these skills, we were struggling to handle our seeds. Most of it would be destroyed after a few months. Our cash crops could not fetch good prices because we were selling to vendors at rock-bottom prices right after harvesting,” says Mary.
In 2015, the cooperative sold 200 bags of quality maize to WFP — valued at US$ 13,750. This increased the farmers’ income and provided them with the tools to develop into a profitable organization.
“Now we handle, grade, treat and store our produce correctly which has significantly reduced losses and allows us to sell our harvest when the price is right,” says a smiling Mary.
Mary takes advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. She has benefited from WFP’s Food for Assets project and in doing so, has seen her life transform.
“What makes a difference is that there is no need for my family to spend money buying vegetables which I can produce on my own.”
“My earning power has increased because I now also rear goats and chickens which gives me extra cash when I need it. I have also bought a sewing machine which I use to sew clothes to sell in my village. My family and I recently built a modern house and installed solar panels too and today, I have 350,000 Malawi Kwacha (US$ 480) in my bank account,” boasts Mary.
“We have also been trained in making compost manure, tree raising and planting, and forest conservation,” says Mary. “What makes a difference is that there is no need for my family to spend money buying vegetables which I can produce on my own. I also sell the vegetables to get money for other household needs,” adds Mary.
Today, Mary looks after her elderly mother, pays school fees for her four nieces and nephews, sends her daughter to university and lives in her newly-built house. All these changes were achieved over a few short years after allowing WFP to help break her cycle of hunger, and in doing so, transform her life.
Read more about WFP’s work in Malawi.