Covid-19 devastates Farmers, but Save the Children agro project raises new hope

Wednesday 10 June 2020

 

Boniface Namate has seen a lot of difficulties in his 56 years. But at every turn, the father of five has overcome the obstacles to create a conducive environment for the growth and benefit of his family.  

But today, like most farmers in the country, Namate faces the biggest challenge of his life. 

Having produced the best crop in his 15-year career as a tobacco farmer, Namate did not think, for a moment, that the novel Covid-19 pandemic would affect him in any way as what remained was the last mile of his tobacco production process.  

“This year, my yield was so good, actually it was my best crop ever since I started tobacco farming,” he says. 

But things have not turned out as expected for the resident of Chikomba Village in the area of T/A Makwangwala in Ntcheu district. 

When the auction season opened, the tobacco buyers were told that they would not be allowed to travel to the auction floors to physically sell their tobacco due to restrictions imposed due to the pandemic.  

But once the money started coming from the initial bales that he had sent, Namate instantly knew that he was in trouble.  

“In my case, I had sent out 10 bales of tobacco weighing 1,116 kilogrammes with an expected market value of K1.1 million (about $1,500). But the money that I was paid was a meagre K400,000 (about $548)”.  

“I was devasted because I had planned a lot of things with the money—I have two daughters who have to complete their education this year, I wanted to build a house for my wife and I had planned to purchase a Toyota Sienta because the projections were that we would make a lot of money this year.”  

Namate says the prices that came from the auction were ridiculous and left most of the farmers distraught.  

He says, under the circumstances, the prospects of fetching fair prices from the auction have all but vanished and he is stuck with several more bales of tobacco that he still has to sell. 

From this year’s harvest, Namate had hoped to make K4.5 million (about $6,000) from his 3,000 kilogrammes of crop but he says he will be lucky to make even K1 million.  

But Namate’s despair turned to delight after he was invited to partake in a Save the Children organised agro-business training in the district as a member of Nsipe Farmers’ Cooperative.  

Enifa Matekenya Banda, a government agricultural extension officer for Nsipe in the district trained the farmers resilience methods amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. 

A group of 15 representatives from five cooperatives with a total of 700 members underwent the training. 

As part of the trainings, the farmers were exposed to opportunities that have opened up the market due to the pandemic. 

“For instance, due to the fact that the borders are closed, there is a gap on the market in terms of the supply of vegetables in the supermarkets and hotels which were being imported. 

“This provides the local farmers with a window of opportunity to supply tomatoes, onions, vegetables and other associated produce to the supermarkets and hotels. So, this training basically took them through how they can benefit from this vacuum by working in cooperatives to produce the best yields,” she said.  

Namate adds: “Tobacco farming has disappointed us but we now have renewed hope in this new intuitive and going by the projections, it is possible that we can make much more profits from these cash crops that we did with tobacco. At a time when we had given up, we are grateful for Save the Children for coming in at just the right time to uplift our spirits and allow us to dream again.” 

Save the Children, in partnership with the Irish Embassy in Malawi, is currently implementing an 18-month project in Ntcheu to support households with resilience-building activities so that those with productive capacity can graduate into other forms of support in future and those without are better protected against future shocks.  

Steve Kamtimaleka is team leader for Save the Children’s Covid-19 response and he says they are undertaking a Pathways for Strengthened Resilience and Graduation among Social Cash Transfer Programme Beneficiaries in Ntcheu District (P4R) project.  

He says in the Food Security and Livelihoods sector, the focus is to procure and distribute vegetable and fruit seeds to gap fill food supply chain disruption by supporting 29 clubs and cooperatives in the district.  

“Given the closure of international border and likely increasing travel restrictions, it is understood that supply chains including for fresh produce will be compromised, causing price inflation.  

“By supporting rapid distribution of seeds and other materials to vegetable and fruit producers we can support them to maintain livelihoods and fill gaps in the coming weeks in the local market and wider supply chain, as requested by the Ministry of Agriculture produce more vegetables in readiness of perceived shortfalls,” he says.

     

Boniface watering his newly found fortune on the and below he contamplates what to do with tobacco he is still keeping