26 LUANAR graduates successfully sets up greenhouse farming after accessing K163.9m funding through AGCOM

* Their first harvest was in August 2023 and so far, they have harvested 5,357kgs of tomatoes and 1,277kgs of peppers

* They have invested in construction of greenhouses; drilling of borehole, purchase of water pump and solar power system

* They have a 3-tonne refrigerated van as well as construction of the manager & guard houses

By Duncan Mlanjira

After accessing funding from Agricultural Commercialisation (AGCOM) facility, a group of 26 students who graduated from Lilongwe University of of Agriculture & Natural Resources (LUANAR) in 2006 successfully set up greenhouse farming at Nsaru in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Mbwatalika in Lilongwe District.

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According to Agriculture Minister, Sam Kawale, the group started as a cooperative (chipeleganyu) then became Village Savings & Loans (VSL) Group and later expanded into a farm enterprises and in 2022 — operating as B’06 Entrepreneurs — they received a total of MK163,983,350.00 funding from AGCOM.

They invested the funding in tomato and pepper production using greenhouse system that sees them plant every other two weeks in staggering formation to help them harvest throughout the year.

“So far, 16 greenhouses of 9mx13m in size are constructed,” the Minister reported on his Facebook wall. “Ten of them are growing tomatoes while 5 are for peppers and one greenhouse is used as a nursery.”

He further announced that with the AGCOM funding, they have invested in construction of the greenhouses; drilling of borehole, purchase of water pump; solar power system; 3-tonne refrigerated van; drip kits; water tank as well as construction of tank stand; security wire fence, manager & guard houses.

“They have 12 employees recruited on permanent basis,” Kawale said. “The farm manager is a graduate from LUANAR, eight staff members manage the greenhouses and three are security personnel.

“Their first harvest was in August 2023. So far, they have harvested 5,357kgs of tomatoes and 1,277kgs of peppers. Some of their off-takers are MFT, Cocos Restaurant, M’dede Restaurant, Chipiku Store, Sana Supermarket and St. John Secondary.

“Once all green houses are operational, they expect to be harvesting 35,000kgs of tomatoes and 15,000kgs of pepper per year.”

Last month, Kawale also visited Mtengo wa Mwayi horticulture cooperative in Thyolo District — formed in 2019 and has 20 members of 16 women and four men, which received K51,428,125 grant from AGCOM in May 2023 while they contributed K23,146,000 in cash and kind.

They set up three greenhouses, installed drip kits, sunk a solar powered borehole, built a warehouse house and bought a delivery van and their goal is to produce 45,000kgs horticultural products such as tomato, bell peppers, and lettuce to supply Food Lovers, who are their off-taker.

“Each green house has 1,500 planting stations,” Kawale reported. It is estimated that each planting station that has a tomato plant, can produce tomatoes for six months continuously.

“Total revenue will be in excess of K15 million per greenhouse, K45 million for all three in six months. With such amount of money per greenhouse, the cooperative is on its way to prosperity.

“With close to K500 billion in AGCOM 2, we are on our way to building and better and prosperous Malawi,” said the Minister.

AGCOM is a Malawi Government flagship programme for transforming smallholder agriculture from mostly subsistence to commercial as well as linking them with producer organizations (POs), service providers (including research and extension) and off-takers in a value chain, in a concept known as a Productive Alliance (PA).

According to AGCOM’s website, the programme was initiated taking cognizance that Malawi’s small farms operate alongside large agricultural estates and a growing number of medium‐scale farms, yet the country’s agriculture production generally cannot meet growing demand from domestic and export markets.

Agricultural commercialisation, especially in rural areas, is hampered by inadequate marketing infrastructure, limited access to marketing services, poor service provision, and inconsistencies in policy.

A weak investment, business, and regulatory climate inhibits development of agricultural enterprises and value addition. More variable climate patterns, marked by later onset or cessation of rains, a longer dry season, and a shorter growing season exacerbate the growing challenges that are hampering the growth of the agriculture sector in the country.

To address these challenges, Malawi Government initiated the six-year AGCOM project whose operational implementation started in July, 2018. ‘Commercialization’ in this Project refers to the proportion of marketed production from targeted farms and the proportion of marketed agribusiness products from the selected value chains while ‘Agricultural value chain products’ are products of farms and agribusinesses, including crop, livestock, and fisheries products sold domestically or exported, with or without processing, depending on market requirements.

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Project development objectives (PDO)

The PDO is to increase commercialization of agriculture value chain products selected under the project and AGCOM PDO level results indicators are: * Increase in yield of selected commodities by producer organizations participating in PAs (crops, livestock, and fisheries);

* Selected agricultural value chain products linked to markets (producer groups that meet market specifications defined by off‐takers

* Increased value of gross sales by producer groups for products of agricultural value chains supported by the Project

Project beneficiaries

The project beneficiaries are various value chain actors, including producers (farmers and farmer producer organizations), buyers (processors, retailers, exporters, and aggregators), and financial institutions that will be lending to the agribusiness sector in the country. The Project is ensuring that youth and women are well represented in its interventions

The programme has a national coverage targeting all districts and all competitive agriculture value chains covering crops, horticulture, livestock and aquaculture and aims at supporting a minimum of 300 Productive Alliances and 100,000 farming households in the country.

Project Value Chains

The project approach in selecting value chains to be supported is that the value chains are not determined in advance — thus, AGCOM is purposely designed to allow the market to decide which value chains and buyers have strong prospective commercial linkages.

This approach prevents the Project from confining its impact at the outset to a small number of producers — in particular value chains.

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