Officials from the African Institute for 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.
Councillor Phiri: The tobacco market has become a big insult to the smallholder farmers in Malawi-Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times Chadzala (2nd left) displaying their horticultural produce at the fair-Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times. Chadzala: Out of the proceeds from the sale of vegetables, I am able to pay fees for my children-Photo by Watipaso Mzungu, Nyasa Times. Farmers listening to a presentation on how the drip irrigation works
The council chairperson, Councillor Martin Luka Phiri, stated that horticulture is fast becoming a lucrative business and can potentially replace faltering tobacco if government and its development partnership can put meaningful investment in the sector.
Phiri was speaking at Mponela in Dowa district during the launch of the horticulture fair on Wednesday. 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 the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA).
Under the project, a group of selected small-scale horticulture farmers is experimenting drip irrigation technology as a measure to mitigate and build resilience to climate change while at the same time boosting production and productivity.
The major goal 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 the smallholder farmers to embrace other crops and use modern farming technologies to maximise the 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.
"So, 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 who is also councillor for Msakambewa East Ward.
However, the council chairperson pleaded with AICC to consider established a structured market for horticultural products at Mponela, saying such a market could help boost the sector.
Forty-three-year-old Mary Chadzala, one of the project beneficiaries, said she is realising huge benefits from the sale of her horticulture produce.
"I am now able to pay school fees for my five children, some of whom are in secondary schools with proceeds from sale of vegetables. I am very grateful to AICC for introducing this project in Mndolera Extension Planning Area, which I belong to," she said.
The CASH project manager, Emmanuel Mponya, said the project is complementing the ongoing Young Innovative Farmer Initiative and the Sustainable Lead Farmer Projects, which AICC is 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 also says 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 and reach out to more farmers with this project so that more farmers can escape the yoke of poverty," he explains.