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Farmers Urged To Turn To Horticulture As Tobacco Market Continues To Falter

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African Institute of Corporate Citizenship (AICC) and Dowa District Council chairperson have urged smallholder farmers in Malawi to seriously consider turning to horticulture as the market for the country’s green gold, tobacco, continues to falter.The council chairperson, Councilor Martin Luka Phiri, stated that horticulture is fast becoming lucrative business and can potentially replace faltering tobacco if government and its development partners can put meaningful investment in the sector. Phiri was speaking at Mponela, Dowa district during AICC’s horticulture fair. The fair is one of the activities under the Commercial Agribusiness for Sustainable Horticulture (CASH) Project which AICC is implementing in Dowa district in partnership with Norwegian Church Aid (NCA).

Under the project, a group of small scale horticulture farmers is taking part in piloting drip irrigation technology as a measure to mitigate poverty and build resilience to climate change while at the same time boosting production and productivity. One of the major goals of the project is to boost production and productivity to a level where some of the profits can be re-invested for further growth. In his remarks, Phiri stated that it is clear that the future of tobacco is hazy; hence the need for smallholder farmers to embrace other crops and use modern farming technologies to maximize yield.

 “Tobacco market and its prices have become a big insult to the smallholder farmers in the country. The farmers invested huge sums of money to produce the leaf only to come back from the market with tears rolling their cheeks because their produce did not fetch the much desired earning for them,” he said. “As tobacco market continues to fail us, let us turn to other fast-maturing crops such as vegetables and fruits to not only beat the effects of climate change, but also address food insecurity and low income earnings from agriculture. I therefore wish to urge farmers to embrace horticulture as a measure to fight poverty at household level,” added Phiri. However, the council chairperson pleaded with AICC and NCA to consider up scaling the initiative to other parts of Dowa and the country at large for other farmers to benefit from this initiative.

Forty three year old Mary Chadzala, one of the project beneficiaries, said she is realizing huge benefits from the sale of horticultural products. “I am now able to pay school fees for my five children, some of whom are in secondary schools with proceeds from the sale of vegetables. I am very grateful to AICC and NCA for introducing the project in Mndolera Extension Planning Area, where I belong to,” she reiterated. CASH project manager, Emmanuel Mponya said that the project is complementing the Young Innovative Farmer Initiative and the Sustainable Lead Farmer Project which AICC is equally implementing in Dowa. Mponya explained that the main objective of the project is to increase profitability for smallholder farming through drip irrigation and to increase production and productivity of horticultural produce. He added that the development logic behind this action is that increased access to profitable input and output horticulture markets to stimulate market-oriented horticultural production.  “AICC is pleased to note that the project is already bearing fruits with the 910 farmers we are currently working with. We have plans to expand to reach out to more farmers with this project so that more farmers can escape the yoke of poverty,” concluded Mponya.

Brighter Rays of Hope From Malawi Cotton Development Strategy

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For several years, the government of Malawi and different stakeholders in the cotton sub-sector, have worked towards improving the productivity of cotton and efficiency of the sector. One mile sprouting from this stakeholder collaboration is the development of Malawi Cotton Development Strategy (MCDS) which is a predecessor of Malawi Cotton Strategic Plan, that had a five year period for its full implementation from 2011-2016. The MCDS is expected to be implemented within a period of five years from 2019/20 to 2023/24. It aims at transforming the cotton sector and broadening its product range through innovation, agro-processing and value addition. The framework has been developed in view of the vital role that the Cotton crop can play in the economy of Malawi as a source of foreign exchange, livelihood support for farmers, and a source of raw materials for industries both local and international.

Different from the Malawi Cotton Strategic Plan which was developed whilst there existed the Cotton Development Trust (CDT) and a period that there was no existence of the cotton seed supply system, the MCDS has been developed in a period where there exist the Cotton Act (2013) which established the Cotton Council of Malawi and a period in which there is emphasis of cotton seed supply system. The Malawi Cotton Strategic plan (2011-2016) was as well developed without clearly stating the role of government and stakeholders were only required to commit of doing a particular initiative in the sector.

The new framework (MCDS) will be implemented under the vision of developing a competitive and sustainable cotton sector that spurs economic growth and development. The broader rationale for MCDS is to contribute to Malawi’s Agriculture Transformation Agenda, as outlined in the Malawi Development and Growth Strategy III, the National Agriculture Policy and the National Agriculture Investment Plan. In addition, it is rooted in the Cotton Act of 2013 that established the Cotton Council of Malawi asa regulator of the Cotton Sector. Due to low production levels in the cotton sector over the past years, it became imperative to develop a successful strategy to provide a clear road map to Government and all cotton stakeholders on how the sector should move forward to generate benefits for all. Therefore the MCDS will operationalize various agriculture related policies and strategies within the cotton sector in the next five years through harmonizing efforts and resources of various players within the cotton sector and steering coordination to achieve greater positive impact within a stipulated time frame. It is envisaged that the Cotton Sector, guided by this strategy, has the potential to significantly contribute to Agricultural Transformation in Malawi.

The MCDS is organized into 5 strategic pillars that cover 8 strategic objectives. The pillars include: production and productivity, research, technology generation and dissemination, policy and regulatory environment, trade and market competitiveness and institutional development and capacity building. Due to demolishment of ADMARC system, it has not been easy for farmers to access cotton inputs that can spur cotton productivity as they are becoming expensive for farmers. As such, the strategy in addressing production and productivity, it seeks to develop the cotton seed system to supply 100% of certified cotton seed locally by 2024. This will be implemented through production of certified cotton seed locally through research institutions. Furthermore, it will be achieved through supporting Seed Services Unit (SSU). The seed multiplication process will be done through engagement of small holder cotton growers through contract with seed houses. Increased seed cotton production to 200,000 MT and productivity to 2,000kg per ha by 2024 is expected through increasing area under rain-fed cotton production. The MCDS also seeks to increase capacity in cotton research and technology generation by 2024 by increasing availability and accessibility of cotton extension and advisory services by 20% by 2024 through developing, adapting and disseminating technical messages on cotton production technologies.

The MCDS is also tackling trade competitiveness and Market development to increase the value of cotton and cotton products for domestic and international markets by 40% by 2024 through strengthening cotton sector actors and their associations. It also aims at institutional development and capacity building through enhancement of knowledge management and information sharing among cotton stakeholders by 2024.

The lead implementing agency of the MCDS is the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water development in hope that the implementation of this strategy will be quick and effectively done unlike the preceding strategic plan which had less government intervention. The introduction of the Cotton Council of Malawi as a regulating body of cotton sector in the country has raised hopes for significant progress in the cotton sector as it was not in existence during the previous cotton strategic plan of 2011-2016. The body is mandated to promote, facilitate and monitor the functioning of production, marketing, processing and the export chain of cotton. The implementation of the MCDS is also facilitated by other line ministries, specifically, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism which is expected to provide capacity building of small and medium businesses such as cooperatives and also facilitate business to business linkages through organization of trade fairs at national and international levels in collaboration with other line ministries. In addition, the ministry strengthens investment promotion through Public-private partnerships (PPP) arrangements.

The Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other non-profit organizations involved in the Cotton value chain are very critical in the implementation of MCDS depending on their areas of interest. The roles of NGOs will include lobbying and advocacy for a favorable policy environment for the Sector, resource mobilization and capacity building in targeted Cotton value chain spaces, financial and technical support, enhancing access to inputs (including finance) and output market and further providing technical and financial support to value chain actors within the Cotton Sector. African Institute of Corporate Citizenship (AICC) and Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) are the key NGOs that have been involved in supporting Cotton value chain initiatives. Therefore it is expected that interested NGOs will take part in the implementation of the new strategy towards achieving its main mission.

The MCDS requires the ministry of agriculture to promote cotton research in the main research centers in the country so that these centers are able to generate new technologies which include development of improved cotton seed varieties and again ensuring that the seed quality is of recommended standard through the seed services unit. Furthermore, the new strategy advocates for government’s role in delivery of cotton extension services through coordination with cotton officers in several ADDs in the country with help from AEDCs and AEDOs in such locations.

Financing in the agriculture sector by commercial banks is very limited. The main challenges include high interest rates, underdeveloped capital markets, lack of innovative financial instruments towards agribusiness and MSMEs, lack of collateral and low financial literacy. The new strategy therefore calls for crop insurance to mitigate against the uncertainties of low crop prices, natural and man-made disasters and climate change. This has been projected to highly benefit farmers as it guarantees them the ability to use collateral to access credit from financial institutions.

COFA Elects New Board of Directors

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The Cotton Farmers Association (COFA) is a farmer organization under the trustees Incorporation Act under the statutes of Malawi. It is an affiliate of the Farmers Union of Malawi with membership open to all cotton growers in Malawi and was formed with the aim of strengthening the capacity of members and affiliates through improving their access to production services, lobbying for efficiencies in marketing, and representing them in all policy fora. The association operates in 15 cotton growing district across Malawi with primary producer associations in all cotton growing districts of the country and particularly seeks to include and encourage the participation of all cotton growers at every level (smallholder or large cotton growers).

According to the association constitution, the National board of COFA is required to seek a new mandate in every third year. Therefore, having elected its board on 15th December, 2015 the association organized to have an elective annual general meeting on 26th June, 2019. AICC together with Cotton Council of Malawi, facilitated the annual general meeting by bringing on board  the 46 delegates from the 15 cotton growing districts of Karonga, Salima, Nkhotakota, Mangochi, Ntcheu, Dedza, Machinga, Zomba, Neno, Mwanza, Blantyre, Chikwawa, Nsanje, Phalombe and Balaka (3 representatives from each). These were the only eligible delegates that participated and voted in the elections. 

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