County fairs are a staple of American agricultural life. Even in our efficient, highly organized system, farming can be a self-contained enterprise. Fairs, therefore, provide an important place for farmers to connect with their peers, find market outlets, learn best practices, display their bounty, and shop for inputs and equipment.
Ag fairs are important in Malawi for many of the same reasons. In 2011, ACDI/VOCA, under the Catholic Relief Services-led Wellness and Agriculture for Livelihoods Advancement (WALA) project, held marketing fairs in Zomba, Nchalo and Luchenza to bring value chain actors together and link smallholders to markets.
Organizing Farmers and Buyers for Greater Productivity
Over 720 participants, including 544 farmers, attended the fairs. So did important buyers, such as Mulli Brothers Ltd, Transglobe Ltd, Rab Processors Ltd and NASFAM, and companies that provide goods and services, such as Agricultural Commodity Exchange (ACE), Opportunity Bank International Malawi and Standard Bank.
The main crop represented at the fairs was pigeon peas, but farmers were also producing sesame, rice, groundnuts, chilies and cassava. Farmers provided samples of the crops and were on hand to discuss details such as volume available, asking price and contact information.
Buyers and other stakeholders visited farmer stands to inquire about, and negotiate on, commodities of interest, while farmers visited stands set up by other stakeholders to gather information and sign up for services. Evaluations showed the fairs were a rousing success.
Again, but Bigger This Year
WALA will facilitate fairs in the same locations this year in collaboration with the Agricultural Commodity Exchange (ACE), the Millennium Villages Project and Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. A host of private sector companies, including buyers of agricultural commodities, business service providers and input suppliers, will attend, in addition to government agencies and NGOs working in agriculture and trade.
- The Zomba Fair will be held August 1, 2012, at the Gymkhana Club sports field. We expect 300-400 farmers to attend representing over 100 farmer groups with a combined membership of 11,200 in Chiradzulu, Zomba, Machinga and Balaka Districts. Farmers will be seeking buyers for early-maturing varieties of pigeon peas, groundnuts, soybeans, rice and cassava. Farmers from these areas also grow chillies and paprika under an outgrower program with Ex-Agris Africa Ltd. Tremendous potential exists to expand production of chillies under Ex-Agris as well as other companies interested in engaging organized groups of farmers.
- The Nchalo Fair on August 14, 2012, at St. Matthews School sports ground in Nchalo should draw around 250 farmers representing 82 marketing groups with a membership of about 7,023 in Nsanje and Chikhwawa Districts. Local crops include sesame, pigeon peas, cow peas, red sorghum, beans and possibly cotton. Chili and paprika production have potential in the area.
- The Luchenza Fair on Sept 6, 2012, at Luchenza Community Grounds will likely attract about 230 farmers representing 74 marketing groups with a membership of 8,516 in Thyolo and Mulanje Districts. Here farmers grow late-maturing varieties of pigeon peas, cassava, white sorghum and chickpeas. Here too, chili and paprika production in the area could be expanded.
Beyond Selling Commodities—Building Value Chain Linkages
Besides looking for buyers, farmers will also be looking to learn about new products and services including:
- financial products such as banking, agricultural loans and insurance
- telecommunications, such as use of mobile phones to transmit agriculture information
- inputs such as seed and fertilizer
- equipment such as sprayers, post-harvest handling and storage products
- media services in agriculture extension
- research on seed varieties
- opportunities for value addition, e.g., cassava processing
Private sector companies can engage with farmers not only to negotiate for commodities but to propose producing new commodities that are in demand but not yet known locally. Intermediary buyers (mostly district-level traders) will also be looking for business opportunities across the value chains.
Using Mobile Phones; Strengthening Cooperatives
An aspect of this year’s fairs will be increasing awareness of the advantages of mobile phones in enhancing agricultural productivity and trade. WALA will help farmers engage with the ACE trading and market information platform, which facilitates linkages through the mobile phone network and internet.
And as the UN General Assembly has declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives, this year’s fair will also seek to highlight the value of smallholder farmer marketing groups in poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration.
WALA Reduces Food Insecurity for 214,000 Households
The Wellness and Agriculture for Livelihoods Advancement (WALA) program is a food security project funded by USAID. The project operates in the Southern Region of Malawi to reduce food insecurity for an estimated 214,000 vulnerable households through a variety of activities that include livelihoods, health and nutrition support. Under the livelihoods-support component, WALA is seeking to link smallholder farmers to markets by facilitating identification of market opportunities, building capacity of farmers to engage with actors in selected value chains and linking organized farmers with private sector companies.
For more information, contact Kristin Cullison at KCullison@acdivoca.org
Learn more about the value chain approach.