Throughout their participation with P4P, the Mwandama farmers' organization accrued knowledge and agricultural skills allowing them to successfully expand their business and sell to a variety of buyers. In order to share their accomplishments and inspire others, they hosted a study tour for seven other Malawian farmers' organizations. Business strategy was one of the key topics discussed among the farmers.
The Mwandama farmer’s organization is located in the Zomba district in southern Malawi. It was formed in 2005 with initial support from the Millennium Village Project. Mwandama first sold to WFP in early 2010, and is now among the most active and successful farmers’ organisations on the P4P roster. The organization has been awarded a total of 11 contracts, amounting to nearly 750 mt of commodities, valued at US$176,000.
After almost five years of P4P participation, the members of Mwandama farmers’ organisation are no longer subsistence farmers, but are active members of the commercial agricultural market. They sell in bulk to private buyers such as government boarding schools, a processing company and a government fisheries company. They have also bid for and won competitive WFP tenders through an online commodity exchange. By 2009 the organization constructed a 2,500 metric ton grain bank to store surplus produce. A small percentage of this surplus is set aside to purchase agricultural inputs such as fertilizer.
Business strategy and cooperation
Members of Mwandama now use a portion of their profits to employ a full-time warehouse manager, Bornwell Kaunga, who oversees the cooperative’s business activities and storage. His presence not only assists the farmers in successfully marketing their products, but also improves their knowledge of business practices and strategy.
"Thanks to the support from P4P, Mwandama has increased its sales, sells at better and fairer prices and now understands how to deliver food that meets globally accepted quality standards to many buyers on the market," Kaunga said. He also noted that the group’s sales to WFP allowed them to see the tangible benefits of working as a cooperative, as well as the potential for growth through reinvestment.
A learning opportunity for others
In response to suggestions from farmer’s organizations interested in learning from Mwandama’s successful experience, P4P helped organize the study tour in November. Representatives from seven farmers’ organisations participated, and were especially keen to learn how the organization grew into a self-sufficient business. They posed questions to the farmers about everything from legal resources and challenges to business plans and strategies, member expectations and leadership skills.
One of the participants in the study tour was Clement Mpoto, from the Kaso farmer’s organization in the Dowa district. Through his participation, Mpoto became inspired to expand and reinvest through cooperation. "After seeing the Mwandama model, I think it would be good to designate a certain amount of production that a member has to contribute to the cooperative’s stock in exchange for loans or inputs. This would make sure that the business moves forward as we could produce and sell more," he said.
Tools for success
Smallholders, such the members of Mwandama, have been provided with tools in post-harvest handling, marketing and management, through trainings by P4P and its partners. This study tour is an example of the P4P ripple effect, as farmers’ organisations learn from and teach one another skills achieved through the programme. This allows smallholder farmers to create sustainable skill sets which can be passed on to others in their families, communities, countries, and even on an international scale like in the case of Rwanda.
This article is based on a story by Sarah Rawson, WFP Malawi.