Malawi government has rolled out a six year Agricultural Commercialization (AGCOM) project which aims at increasing the capacity of 650,000 farming households to improve production and marketing of legume and horticultural crops in order to better the farmers' livelihoods in the face of the dwindling of the country's main cash crop tobacco.
National Coordinator, Dr Teddie Oliver Nakhumwa (l)addressing a news conference
Focus will also be on dairy farming and aquaculture fisheries to give the farmers a wide range of choices for their specialisation.
AGCOM is being implemented with the support of a USD95 million loan facility from the World Bank.
National Coordinator, Dr Teddie Oliver Nakhumwa, told a press conference in the Capital Lilongwe on Monday that the project is demand driven and addressing the farmers' critical needs.
"AGCOM wants to ensure that the proportion of crop harvest that farmers' take to the market must increase so that they move from being subsistence to commercial," said Nakhumwa.
He added: "Farmers complain of lacking capital, access to reliable markets and belonging to farmers groups that never assist them which makes them fail to make progress.
"AGCOM wants to put farmers in productive cooperatives where they have access to loans and necessary extension services and learning contract negotiation and contract farming to enable them bargain good prices for their quality farm produce and products.
"Legume crops such as Soyabeans, groundnuts, red kidney beans and sugarbeans, which we want farmers to focus on, have a huge market in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
"We are very much aware that no single crop can replace tobacco in the country at the moment. But a combination of these legumes and horticultural crops such as mangoes and tomatoes can increase farmers' incomes and earn the country foreign currency in proportions not very far from tobacco".
In this regard, Nakhumwa disclosed that AGCOM is establishing Productive Alliances that are cooperatives comprising farmers, input suppliers and buyers that must work together on the farms and identify better markets for their produce.
At least 20 of such alliances are expected to be fully operational by the end of this year.
Nakhumwa added that AGCOM is also adopting already existing farmer groups and associations to build their capacity so that they become Productive Alliances or cooperatives as well.
He said the project has so far trained 30 agribusiness specialists, 21 trade liason officers and 28 District Agriculture Development Officers (DADOs) who are assisting in the formation of the Productive Alliances and developing their capacity.
According to Nakhumwa, 300 Productive Alliances will be formed by the end of the project to accommodate the 650,000 farming households.