It is a well-known fact that farmers in the country produce and sell their produce each passing year. But how and where they sell their produce, remains a challenge that needs to be addressed if we are to achieve remarkable economic growth among our farmers.

Despite their important role as food producers, the commercial prospects for many of our smallholders remain a challenge.

A majority of farmers in the country site lack well-structured markets and stable prices for agricultural produce as one reason that hinders agricultural development at both household and national levels. The need for connecting farmers to better markets cannot be over-emphasized as it remains essential in the social-economic development of our farmers and is very key to sustainable and increased agricultural productivity.

They (smallholders) engage in many interrelated markets, but also face challenges in securing market access and eliciting benefits to support healthy livelihoods.

Under component one of the second Agriculture Sector Wide Approach Support Project (ASWAp-SPII), ‘Sustainable Agricultural Productivity and Diversification’ through subcomponent 1.1, Strengthening innovative agricultural extension and advisory services as a key driver to enhance sustainable crop diversification, production and management systems, the project facilitates development and capacity building for farmer organizations which among others includes trainings on how the farmers can link themselves to structured and reliable markets.

Gwiritse Farmers Cooperative from the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kabudula at Nsaru in Lilongwe has been one of the farmer organizations to benefit from these initiatives. The cooperative was linked to ASWAp – SPII through UN Women, another organization with which they have partnered as a cooperative.

The cooperative was trained on visioning and how to find markets for their produce and according to Bondera Chiungeni who is the cooperative’s Board Chairperson, they have been in the past having several challenges as regards securing reliable markets before they received the training from ASWAp – SPII.

“As a cooperative, we have had no formal market of selling our produce since we started. We used to sell our commodities to unscrupulous buyers whose prices are very low and they buy in small quantities making it difficult for us to sell all our produce at once”, he explained.

Bondera Chiungeni, Board Chairperson Gwiritse Cooperative

Chiungeni says the cooperative started working with ASWAp – SPII in 2017 and in 2018, some members of the cooperative were taken to Mponela for training. Further to that in 2019 ASWAp – SPII took some members of the cooperative for an education tour to Blantyre where they attended Agriculture Trade Fair at the trade fair grounds.

Brenda Mkwapatira, one of the members who attended the training, says the training has greatly benefitted the cooperative and its individual members. Mkwapatira explained that during the training, they were taught of having a vision as farmers and how the cooperative can go search and secure markets for its produce.

“When we go to look for a market of our produce, there are things that we consider, such as the type of commodity the buyer is looking for, the quantities which need to be supplied, the period of supplying the commodity and above all, the price which the buyer is offering. We do this research with several buyers and choose the buyer we like according to the conditions”, she said.

Brenda Mkwapatira

The cooperative’s manager Mr. Piton Ngwira says the training has assisted them to be independent in the processes of searching and securing markets for their produce and that they do not have to be relying on other people or organizations to find markets.

Ngwira said, “We have been pushing to be independent in the processes of finding markets as a cooperative, the training has helped us achieve this. The knowledge we obtained from the training has assisted us to secure markets with different companies and institutions. These include National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA), Sunseed Oil Company and Agriculture Development and Market Corporation (ADMARC), this is what we have always looked forward to.”

In the 2019 – 2020 marketing season, the cooperative sold 103 metric tons of soya bean to Sunseed Oil Company, 350 metric tons of maize to NFRA and 843 metric tons to ADMARC.  The tonnage sold includes produce from the cooperative members and some from nonmembers which the cooperative aggregates and sell at a commission.

The cooperative realized a total of MK8.4 million in commission from the sales. The tonnage which was sold to ADAMRC brought to the cooperative a total commission of MK5 million, MK1.7 million from NFRA sales and MK1.7 million from Sunseed Oil Company.

Ngwira says the development has assisted to lessen the responsibility of cooperative members on meeting operational expenses of the cooperative such as employees’ salaries and utility bills among others and will help the members to get farm inputs at an affordable subsidized price.  The members are also enjoying good returns from their labor as they are now selling their produce at better prices.   

“The commission realized is being used to pay the employees and utility bills of the cooperative. In the 2020-2021 season, we used some of the money to buy seeds that were distributed to the members and they will pay after harvesting and selling the same at a subsidized price. The members are also selling their produce at better prices. For example, when vendors were buying soya bean at MK320 we sold the same commodity to our markets at MK430 per kilogram”, Ngwira said.

Registered in 2017 as a cooperative, Gwiritse Farmers cooperative has 248 members with 184 women, 64 men and 71 young people among which 57 are ladies and 14 are gentlemen. The cooperative has several permanent employed staff such as agricultural extension worker, manager and accountant. Members of the cooperative have been divided into groups referred to as business centers for easy management. The centers include Chiliko, Mgola, Zindo, Mphonje, Mande and Kasambwe.

Malawi’s smallholder farmers play an essential role in ensuring food security and nutrition today and in the future, including in the increase in food production needed to meet future national and international demands.