In Malawi, farmers in the southern district of Mwanza are learning to market their fruit themselves. The strategy sidesteps traders who keep a significant portion of the profits for buying the produce in rural areas and transporting it for sale in urban markets.
Development experts say by marketing their own produce, farmers earn more money, which could cut poverty in the region.
What strikes a traveler to Mwanza district are the bright oranges and tangerines of the citrus trees dotting the landscape.
Stanley Thondoya wants to see more of that fruit in the urban markets of Blantyre, just southeast of the region, and more of the profits from their sales in the pockets of Mwanza’s farmers.
Thondoya is the executive secretary of the 350-member Zipatso, or Fruit, Association. It’s working with the development group ActionAid-Malawi to train farmers in production, processing and marketing.
There’s plenty of fruit available. About seven out of 10 farmers in the district own an orchard or fruit garden.
But, transport remains a problem for area farmers who want to bypass traders and take their produce directly to city consumers.
Thondoya has an answer
“What we have done is we have set aside some funds where farmers borrow money and hire vehicle to the market," he says.
Thondoya says the change is not appreciated by some traders, who are the traditional link between the farmers and the markets.
“There is a cartel of vendors who they say don’t want to see farmers selling inside the market. So we are negotiating with marketing officials so that farmers can also access the urban markets,” Thondoya explains
The effort is paying dividends for Mwanza farmers like Mary Monomala, who sells her produce at Makata market in Blantyre.
She says the traders used to buy 12 oranges for five kwacha, or about US $0.04 [four US cents] – less than half the price they sell for at the market. That’s no longer the case.
“I have managed to [earn] about K200, 000 [$1,400] from the sales of oranges. I am deciding to renovate my house in Blantyre and also use some of the money to buy household items and pay school fees,"says Monomala.
She points out that she is a good example of farmers who are free from exploitative hands of traders who buy fruits from the orchards.
There are other efforts to help the farmers, including the introduction of methods to improve the value of the fruit they sell on the market.
"We have been giving them financial support to mobilize themselves not only selling the fruits, but also on how to process the fruits into juices," says MacLean Chimpeni, the district coordinator for ActionAid, the NGO working with the district's farmers association.
Chimpeni says ActionAid is also training farmers how to develop healthier fruit trees. That includes methods for increasing the yields in older trees and improving their planting materials.
Thondoya says a demonstration nursery has been set up for the district, where farmers can learn grafting techniques for starting new trees, rather than the time-consuming method of growing a fruit-bearing tree from seed.
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