When collective marketing answers it all

For years, smallholder farmers have been a target of exploitation by middle buyers and merchants in Malawi. But now are becoming a bastion of force to reckon with in the agricultural produce market by adopting collective marketing.

For so long, smallholder farming has been a back breaking practice with little benefits. Very often, their efforts have hardly translated into visible gains due to poor market prices and the dilemma of barter trade.

But that is slowly changing as some farmers are finding means of by passing these perennial challenges.

The farmers are employing entrepreneurial skills and techniques in maximising the potential of their produce on the market. One approach is the use of collective marketing to boost their bargaining power and selling price.

In collective marketing, farmers assemble their produce at a particular centre in what is called commodity aggregation and sell in one bulk.

In Ntchisi, 35-year-old Hastings Kachigunda is one of the farmers reaping the benefits of this entrepreneurial skill.

“Through this approach, we are able to invite companies to come and buy direct from us. We are also able to bargain good selling prices,” says Kachigunda who comes from Kafulafula Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Malenga in the district.

Kachigunda is the lead farmer for Kafulafula Farmers Club which has 15 members. The group was one of the 32 farmer clubs that brought their commodities together at Mthirasembe Commodity Aggregation Centre (CAC) in the district.

Last year alone, the group assembled 319 bags of soybean and for the first time managed to attract two companies to buy from their areas.

One company offered to buy at K290 per kilogram while the other dangled a K330 price. They chose the latter.

Kachigunda realised K560, 000 from his 32 bags of Soybean weighing 50 kg each. This was a huge leap from the previous farming season when he individually sold 35 bags at K320, 000.

Misozi Banda is one of the eight women farmers in Kafulafula Club who has seen a great change within a year of engaging in collective marketing.

For her, the beauty of selling farm produce as a group goes beyond bargaining and good prices.

“The other advantage is that money comes at once and you can make meaningful development with it than selling in small portions to middlemen,” says Banda.

The 33-year-old mother of three managed to hit six figures by selling soybean produced from an acre of land. This was the first time since she started growing the crop four years ago.

“I got K200, 000 from the 10 bags I sold through collective marketing,” she says.

Banda commends the African Institute for Corporate Citizenship for empowering them with different skills in agricultural value chain specifically at marketing point.

AICC is running a Sustainable Lead Farmer Program which aims at increasing market access and entrepreneurship skills among smallholder farmers.

Through the program, established farmers are encouraged to organise themselves in clubs and CACs in order to sell their commodities collectively, according to Field Officer for AICC in Ntchisi Kefasi Matiki.

“Our entry point is the lead farmer. We teach this farmer different skills which are later transferred to follower farmers in a club,” says Matiki adding that each lead farmer usually has 25 to 30 follower farmers

“We teach them negotiating skills like how they can engage a buyer and also how they can aggregate their crops and attract markets for their produce.”

In linking farmers to buyers, AICC hold market conferences where farmers interact with stakeholders in the agricultural value chain.

“This gives farmers the opportunity to talk directly to companies that buy their produce and appreciate their potential to do well with farming than just staying in the villages without knowledge of marketing that leaves vulnerable to exploitation,” Matiki says.

The program is also empowering farmers with skills to engage in several on and off-farm businesses that would help them diversify their income.

In Ntchisi, Kachigunda is becoming an enterprising farmer with entrepreneurial skills obtained through capacity building from AICC.

From last year’s sales, he took K280, 000 and bought two oxen for his ox-cart which is generating a lot of income through hiring.

“So far I have already reclaimed this money by making close to K300, 000. Many people here hire the ox-cart to carry crops from the field to their homes and market depots,” says Kachigunda.

For Misozi Banda, she reinvested part of her money by buying two pigs at a total of K80,000 with K45, 000 used for buying two bags of fertilizer which she used in the current farming season.

Banda, who also grow other crops like beans and maize, says she plans to increase production of soybeans from an acre to two or three acres.

“The benefits of selling my soybeans as a group have been very encouraging. I want to grow more and sell through the same approach,” she says.

AICC is implementing the Sustainable Lead Farmer Programme in Rumphi, Mzimba, Ntchisi, Dowa and Lilongwe districts with support from the Development Fund of Norway.

So far, the program has organized over 12,236 farmers into 31 commodity aggregation centres (CAC) and 320 clubs with one CAC, Mpingu Milk Bulking Group in Lilongwe, already registered as a cooperative, according to AICC Communications Officer Charles Ziba.

“It is encouraging to see that the lives of farmers are transforming because of the tangible gains of selling their crops collectively,” says Ziba.

With the zeal demonstrated by Kachigunda and Banda in Ntchisi to increase their production, it is no wonder that collective marketing is answering the problems that they were facing as smallholder farmers when it came to market access.

Source: Malawi News Agency – MANA