By John Saukira
Malawian farmers have for a long time relied heavily on the tobacco crop as their primary source of income but time has come to draw a comprehensive plan that should prepare them for an era of significantly reduced demand for tobacco.
In partnership with the Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI), which aims to diversify tobacco-dependent economies, a new pilot program is underway in the Mchinji and Lilongwe districts to provide technology-enhanced finance and training extensions for tobacco farmers.
The program addresses capital and resource barriers, access and training for alternative value chains, development of business plans, and gender challenges for women smallholder farmers.
To stimulate supply and demand for farmers working with alternative crops, the initiative will offer access to capital for farmers to expand their businesses, along with the technology and training required to increase production and profits.
Key project components include the development and delivery of a range of financial products tailored for farmers, crop-specific training to maximize end-market opportunities, innovative video training on best agricultural practices, and financial literacy training.
Opportunity International is partnering with First Capital Bank Malawi, Horizon Farm in Lilongwe, Pyxus International, and other key stakeholders on this initiative.
Because 30 per cent of the pilot program participants are women, Opportunity International will include a component to address gender dynamics. The project will consist of a financial literacy and life skills curriculum, financial planning for families, multiple banking options, and equal representation in agricultural training tools.
“Opportunity International has been partnering with smallholder farmers in Malawi for the past 15 years, and we are excited to continue to learn from them through this initiative,” said Tim Strong, Head of Agriculture.
“Farmers’ voice and farmers’ choice underpin our work and, together with our partners, we look forward to co-investing with our clients, their families, and their communities to share risk in uncertain market times,” he said.
Opportunity International Country Director, Candida Nakhumwa says; “The Agricultural Transformation Initiative is dedicated to supporting the efforts of smallholder tobacco farmers to diversify their crop portfolio.
“Opportunity International has successfully developed initiatives that benefit farmers, and this partnership will allow us to provide new and innovative solutions to tobacco farming communities in Malawi.”
Opportunity International is a global microfinance nonprofit organization committed to ending extreme poverty and promoting quality education for families in need.
Since 1971, Opportunity has helped millions of families work their way out of poverty by providing financial resources, training, and delivering ongoing support to start small businesses, earn living wages, and feed their families.
The organization provides loans to families seeking tuition assistance and educators who want to improve local schools. In 2017, Opportunity International issued nearly $1.6 billion in loans, reaching nearly 11 million clients in 23 countries, and helped fund 1,800 schools serving more than 500,000 children.
Agricultural Transformation Initiative is a core pillar of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Inc., an independent, U.S. nonprofit organization, whose mission is to improve global health by ending smoking in this generation.
Recent focus group discussions in the Mchinji and Dowa districts showed that women face crucial challenges in Malawian tobacco farming, including insufficient access to farm loans, crop selection biases, and lack of representation in contract farming and cooperative operations.