Malawi: Integrating sustainable farming methods into the soy sector

Solidaridad and NASFAM have embarked on a venture to boost the sustainability of the soy smallholder value chain. This will be done in two ways: through top quality seed and good agricultural practices.

Malawi produces over 35 000 MT of soy per year. Most is produced by smallholders. This could increase significantly over the next five years, with domestic policy and regional demand from the poultry industry being the key drivers.

The proposed project will enable smallholder farmer families in five different regions in Malawi to sustainably produce soy using the Roundtable on Responsible Soy Association RTRS principles as a framework. The project will reach 72,500 smallholder farmer households, sustainably increasing incomes and soy yield by at least 15 percent.

The Malawian government has encouraged smallholders to plant cash crops including legumes, like soya beans, in a recent drive to increase agricultural production. The National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) currently runs a project that trains farmers to produce soy. The project will be executed by the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM) a, farmer-directed business network with 100.000 smallholder members, organized in 43 associations throughout Malawi. NASFAM farmers have already been introduced to certain sustainable “conservation farming” practices and the RTRS standard provides a natural progression from this.

Development has centered on teaching good agricultural practices. Whilst this has gone some way to improve the existing knowledge, it has not achieved the desired levels of productivity. This is partly due to the fact that it has not been complemented by access to inputs, especially seeds. Farmers struggle to find good quality seed from a reliable source. Studies show that good seeds can double productivity.

Implementing good agricultural practices

The suggested Farmer Support Programme funding in the NASFAM proposal will be catalytic in two ways. In addition to capacity building being done by USAID, and Norwegian support, farmers will learn to farm according to the RTRS standard which will ensure good agricultural practices. And secondly, the funding will enable the farmers to buy high quality seed. One of the most important elements in the programme is seed supply and multiplication. Shortage of seed represents the greatest constraint in production, therefore seed multiplication plays an important role.

The farmers can then combine their new knowledge and high quality seed and move towards higher yields. A revolving fund will be created to facilitate the buying of good seed each year. This should reduce the dependency syndrome. An initial injection of money will then be used to create a long term source of money for inputs, thereby enhancing production for several years to come.

It is envisaged that 72 500 farmers will benefit from the intervention. Over a third of these smallholders are women. These farmers cultivate between 0.5 to 1.2 hectares of land. This profile broadly characterizes NASFAM members and indeed, the majority of smallholders in Malawi. With an average household size of five, the project will indirectly benefit 362 500 rural dwellers.

NASFAM is excited about the potential impact of the project. Beatrice Makwenda from NASFAM said “Smallholder farmers are not able to realize optimum production levels. This project will change all that. The farmers will receive quality soya seed which is the main ingredient of increased productivity,” she explained. “This programme can introduce meaningful change into the lives of farmers,” said Nokutula Mhene, Farmer Support Programme liaison, Solidaridad Southern Africa.