UN World Food Programme

Women Smallholders Reap Real Rewards In Malawi

Smallholder Esinta Jickson (blue jacket) checks her maize with family members and neighbours. 

Copyright: WFP/David Orr

A partnership between WFP and a farmers' co-op has had some far-reaching consequences for its members - and some unexpected benefits for the women on its management committee.

Esinta Jickson got down on her knees and ran a hand through the maize kernels spread out to dry on the ground before her house. It was a proud moment for the smallholder farmer who had harvested the maize from her two-acre plot just the day before. She would get 80 bags of maize in all, not a bad crop. 

It used to be that Esinta made only the occasional sale to local people and small traders. But, since last year, she and her fellow co-operative members can count the UN World Food Programme among their clients. Chiwoza Co-op, located at Chiseka just outside Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, sold 50 metric tonnes of maize to WFP last year – half its members’ combined yield. 

“The sale helped me pay school fees and buys seeds for my vegetable garden”, says Esinta who is married to a civil servant and has five children.

Quicker profit

The co-op’s partnership with WFP, formed under the Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative, began in 2012. Since then, WFP has built a warehouse and two mills for Chiwoza, as well as helping its members with training and providing them with fertilizer and seeds. The co-op has in excess of 400 members, more than half of them women.

“With WFP, we can sell more produce and also make a quicker profit”, says Esinta. “We also have a guaranteed market with WFP so can plan a bit more for our future”.

In 2013, WFP bought maize from Chiwoza with contributions from UKaid, Canada and the Caterpillar Foundation to use in the WFP school meals programme which provides daily, nutritious porridge to more than 800,000 students in Malawi.

Equal to the men

Esinta’s business acumen has earned her the position of co-op treasurer on Chiwoza’s 14-member management committee.

When I asked committee members earlier in the day what other qualities were required of a treasurer, one of them replied: “Esinta is a loyal and honest person”. “Anything else?”, I queried. “Well,” said one of them with a laugh, “she’s also tough and doesn’t give money away easily”.

Estinta seemed satisfied with the appraisal and afterwards took fellow committee members out to visit her field. Had being on the committee made a difference to her?, I asked, as we inspected her maize.

“It’s changed my life, “she replied. “My friends now ask me advice about farming now that I’m part of the group and know what’s going on. Being on this committee has really helped the women members. It’s taught us to be independent. We know we’re equal to the men and that has improved our standing in the community”. 

The men in the group nodded their agreement. Here was a woman who clearly knew what she was talking about.