Malawi’s growing population is expected to place an increasing demand on its food production systems but the country’s smallholder farmers, the providers of the nation’s food, aren’t poised to benefit from this increased demand. Why, one might wonder, does increased demand not translate to increased incomes for the suppliers of demand?
The answer lies in the smallholder’s ability to supply. The projected outlook for a smallholder farmer in Malawi is not encouraging. As their farm sizes are too small for generating significant income, smallholder farmers cannot bring more land under the till to reach profitable scales of operation. The manifestations of climate change threaten to undercut yields and incomes. What only makes the situation bleaker is underutilization of the livestock sector owing to low rates of farm diversification, restrictive policy frameworks that translate to inadequate access to markets and extension services and little to none infrastructure. The result: Smallholder farmers aren’t equipped adequately to benefit from livestock and are deprived from realizing its full income potential.
The Ministry of Agriculture recognizes the growing importance of the sector in contributing to farm diversification, increased income levels and food and nutrition security and potential contributions to the country’s economy. In response, the Ministry has made recent adjustments on the Livestock Development Policy by developing the 2021 to 2026 Livestock Policy to increase and complement efforts to commercialize the sector.
It is for these reasons that the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in collaboration with the Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) hosted a policy dialogue under the theme “Livestock for food and nutrition security in Malawi: Policy Gaps, needs and opportunities.” The policy dialogue which took place on the 16 October 2021 to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to discuss current policy challenges, needs and opportunities in the livestock sector. The webinar was informed by the Crop Livestock Integration and Marketing in Malawi (CLIM²) project that ICRISAT is implementing in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the Small-Scale Livestock and Livelihoods Programme (SSLLP) funded by the European Union under the Farm Income and Diversification Programme (FIDP II). The project’s goal is to improve crop livestock diversification and integration and to contribute to more efficient use of scarce farm resources, benefiting women in particular.
Mrs Erika Maganga, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, highlighted the importance of stakeholders working together to address the challenges affecting growth of the sector.
“This meeting has come at an opportune time to discuss the key role of the livestock sector in its contribution to the agricultural sector, with reference to policy paradigm shift. It is therefore vital that all stakeholders take part in implementation of the revised strategies. We need to address multiple challenges on how we can better invest,” she said.
Responding to the call from the Principal Secretary, Prof Sikhalazo Dube from ILRI highlighted a series of gaps that had mainly been identified through the project that need addressing through policy and support mechanisms. The project had focused mainly on goat, poultry and dairy and other challenges smallholder farmers faced, like limited availability of capital including finance of Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), especially for those that women and youth were participating in. A lack of skills or expertise in animal husbandry with limited access to extension services, limited knowledge about what qualified as good quality product from the perspective of the consumer resulting in low returns and policies that were not inclusive enough for the rural poor often making the dairy market inaccessible.
“The project has clearly shown that farm income and nutrition benefits can be enhanced if we invest in inclusive agri-business models in chicken, goat and dairy value chains,” said Dr Sabine Homann-Kee Tui, a social scientist from ICRISAT with the CLIM² project, while explaining how the project was addressing these limitations. “This should build our confidence in smallholder agri-business and urge us to create adequate conditions for smallholder farmer driven agri-businesses.”
The project illustrated multiple entry points: It supported the Government of Malawi in the release of the Kuroiler Chicken, a fast-growing dual-purpose breed that also produces larger sized eggs. Farmers were also trained in producing their own feeds and cutting feed costs. By investing in high quality infrastructure in the goat value chain, constructing sale pens where goats can be sold, refurbishing abattoirs and butchery facilities, farmers can now engage with buyers in a way that benefits both from more efficient transactions; farmers also gain insights into meat demand of the market. Through investment in micro dairy processing, the project illustrated ways to reduce wastage of milk products and value addition to milk locally. Improved knowledge about animal welfare and health also helped reduce losses (mortality and product wastage) and improved the quality of eggs, poultry, goat and dairy. All of this led to an overall increase in farm incomes from the various agri-businesses. The Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) approach seeks to seed agri-business capacity locally for which the project had initiated starter kits to support the financial needs of SMEs.
Prof Sikhalazo also spoke passionately of this venture saying, “Once we realized the capital constraint, we developed starter kits to support SMEs. It became important to recognize that starter kits can be vital to nurture passion and critically important for agri-business.”
Dr Patrick Chikungwa, Director for the Department of Livestock and Animal Health, detailed the government’s efforts to incorporate lessons from the project in line with the nine priority areas of the new 2021-2026 livestock policy.
“During the development of this new policy, the CLIM2 project consulted with us. The project team’s inputs were taken into consideration in developing the Livestock policy review,” Dr Chikungwa said. The Director continued to further elaborate how the project identified productivity and per capita consumption as areas not well addressed in the previous policies and key to achieving farm diversification.
“The CLIM2 project has brought to light evidences for low involvement of stakeholders, low public funding, livestock disease pressure, low technology uptake and low commercialization. Previous policies have increased numbers but did not look at increasing productivity and per capita consumption. The yield per animal can be improved. We will now try to address that,” he said.
So far, the project has scored some major points in informing the new livestock policy and bringing in various innovations. However, sustainability of efforts when a project phases out has always been a contentious issue in ensuring maximum use of resources. The dialogue identified the need for synergies in efforts by state and non-state actors, academia and other stakeholders to achieve this.
“The lessons from the meeting will inform us going forward in business coaching and capacity building of the SMEs. We will strengthen the alignment with DAESS and others to coordinate better,” Prof Sikhalazo Dube added.
The dialogue brought to light some other important issues that needed to be considered at policy implementation level, such as low employment rates within the sector which needs to be increased for improved extension service coverage, poor road networks which limit farmers’ access to infrastructure and markets, and therefore equally needed investing in, and the importance of stringent regulatory framework for quality control for Malawi to truly gain from the export market.
Reacting to this need, Dr Chikungwa further emphasized that with the assistance of CISANET and the CLIM2 project, the government will package the policy messages and further engage relevant stakeholders. Furthermore, the revised livestock policy would be officially disseminated and launched; Dr Chikungwa hinted that the Ministry of Agriculture would commit to conducting follow-up dialogues.
“This is my appeal to all stakeholders in the country to move together following all nine priority areas that cover every challenge, in a way. We will also get in touch with donor and development partners as the government alone cannot address all challenges. There is a need for resource mobilization with donors and development organizations, with the new policy setting pace and direction for the country,” he said.
To view a policy brief on the livestock sector resulting from the consultations and the learnings of the project, click here.
To hear what farmers, researchers and other stakeholders have to say about the CLIM² project and its outcomes in each of the value chains, click below.
Mr Thokozani Guta (CISANET), Ms Tendai Saidi (CISANET) and Ms Pamela Kuwali (CISANET). Rohit Pillandi (ICRISAT) contributed to the writing of this article.