Sugarcane farmers association takes action for sustainable growth

31 July 2019

With Solidaridad’s support, the Sugarcane Growers Association of Malawi has been able to raise the necessary funds to form a secretariat to take the needs of its members forward. Five years after its formation, the association now successfully represents its members’ voices at a policy level. It is also working to build capacity in best practice and sustainable farming methods, making a notable impact on the lives of the sugarcane farmers who make up the association’s membership.

A sugarcane field

 

The Sugarcane Growers Association of Malawi (SUGAM) was established in 2014 to represent the voices of the country’s smallholder growers of sugarcane for commercial use. In order to effectively deliver on SUGAM’s mandate, the growers agreed that they needed a secretariat and to recruit staff for the day-to-day running of the organization. They decided to contribute to a pool fund to finance the secretariat’s operations. However, that commitment was unfulfilled, and the association had no capacity to collect the membership subscription fee. Consequently, SUGAM existed without a secretariat for almost five years, unable to perform its function.

POSITIVE CHANGE

When Solidaridad returned to Malawi in 2018 to continue supporting the sugarcane industry, it committed to provide institutional support to transform SUGAM into a functional organization. 

The priority was to facilitate the collection of all funds. The Chairman of SUGAM, Mr. Frighton Njolomole, recalls: "We discussed with Solidaridad how we could best address the problem of default. And we were advised that, in other value chains and countries, the members pay their subscriptions through deductions at source. This prevents default 100%. While the suggestion was good, we realized that we didn’t have resources to bring the growers together so that the growers could make a resolution." 

Observing the growers’ commitment, Solidaridad agreed to contribute funds, sharing the cost of hosting an annual general meeting with SUGAM. At the meeting, held on 18 July 2018, the growers agreed to deduct 0.7% of their gross revenue at source to be paid to the association. This decision resolved the long-standing financial challenges which had been preventing SUGAM’s growth. Following negotiations with Illovo Sugar (Malawi) plc, who implemented the resolution, SUGAM’s secretariat mobilized 92,857 euros of membership subscription fees. 

The availability of financial resources allowed the organization to form a secretariat, headed by the executive secretary, Mr Geoffrey Nkata. He said:

The finance was a game changer for the relevance, effectiveness and sustainability of SUGAM. The existence of the secretariat is a huge milestone, and stakeholders can now easily find us.

"SUGAM is now hosting seven interns from government. Solidaridad demonstrated its serious commitment to support smallholder sugarcane growers because they have gone a step further to fund the review of the SUGAM strategic plan. This strategic plan is crucial because it will clearly define the path SUGAM should pursue for it to effectively deliver on its mandate."

The secretariat has already made great strides in representing the interests of sugarcane growers among different stakeholder groups, participating, for example, in the development of Sugarcane Industry Bill. The association’s core activities centre around capacity building and policy and advocacy work to amplify the voice of growers. SUGAM ensures its members interests are recognized and considered by government when formulating policies for the benefit of sugarcane growers.

PARTNERSHIP TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY

The Solidaridad Southern Africa Network Trust has since formed a partnership with SUGAM to implement a project focused on increasing farmers’ efficiency and yield through good agricultural practices. This programme, set to run until December 2020, is being implemented in Malawi, Zambia and South Africa. In Malawi, it will benefit 2,100 growers from Kasinthula Cane Growers Association, Phata Sugarcane Outgrowers Cooperative and KAMA Cane Growers Cooperative in Chikwawa District. 

The project will conduct a gap analysis to establish the difference between current farmer practices and globally recognized sustainability initiatives. Growers will also be given the opportunity to use a digital solutions platform to help them increase efficiency, and train them to run their businesses in a more responsible and sustainable way.

BECOMING A GLOBAL PLAYER

Solidaridad recently supported SUGAM’s chairman and executive secretary to attend the 13th conference of the World Association of Cane and Beet Producers (WABCG) in Brazil from 3-6 June. The conference gave producers the opportunity to play a leading role in analyzing and accepting the challenges of the sugarcane industry. The Chairman of SUGAM, Mr. Frighton Njolomole was elected as a member of the Executive Board of Trustees of WABCG. This role will enhance the association’s profile, giving SUGAM influence within the industry that directly impacts its members’ lives. The conference also served as a great learning opportunity for the SUGAM team, who attended many presentations on the sugarcane business from different parts of the world. 

SUGAM Chairman, Mr. Frighton Njolomole (third from left), with other participants at the World Association of Cane and Beet Producers in Brazil: Xavier Andrillon, Luiz Campos, Aline Silva (from Brazil office) and Celso Albano, from partner producer association Orplana (who hosted the event) 

SUGAM general secretary Geoffery Nkata said the delegation learned two valuable lessons during the conference: "The first one is the management of crop residues and conservation agriculture. While in Malawi, we burn all the crop residues and trash, growers in Brazil use the same residues for conservation agriculture, which is good for soil protection and ensures sustainable production. The other lesson learnt is that the sugarcane value chain has huge potential to improve national and household economy. Stakeholders should be sensitized to understand that there is a diversity of products that can be produced from sugarcane. Not only sugar, but also ethanol and electricity. This diversity can benefit the sugarcane growers because of the increase in the streams from which they get a share of the proceeds."

Since the secretariat’s formation, other partners have expressed an interest to work with SUGAM to implement projects to promote the social economic wellbeing of the smallholder sugarcane growers in Malawi.

Learn more about Solidaridad's sugarcane programmes

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