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Agricultural Policies Unfavourable For Women – Kamchacha
Malawi celebrates Mothers' Day on October 15. In addition, Malawians join the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day for Rural Women on October 15, and the World Food Day the following day, on October 16. George Mwika Kayange engages Calvin Kamchacha, Executive Director for Farmers Forum for Trade and Social Justice (FAFOTRAJ), an NGO that promotes wealth and employment creation among women and the youth in Malawi, on the role of rural women and agricultural cooperatives in the country’s agriculture sector
GMK: What would you consider as key achievements or successes in relation to the agricultural cooperatives in Malawi?
Kamchacha: Mobilization of farmers to form cooperatives has been done successfully. Willingness of farmers to work in groups has been encouraging. Some cooperatives, though few, are independent, and have continued to operate after donor funding stopped. Some have been able to engage in value addition through agro-processing, although they lack the appropriate technologies or processing machines. It is also encouraging to note that some cooperatives have been able access big structured markets with stringent conditions, and have been able to participate in competitive tender processes.
GMK: What are the major challenges these cooperatives have been facing?
Kamchacha: Most cooperatives are established as social entities lacking a business drive. This has an impact on the sustainability of the business. A great number of cooperatives also lack a clear vision to inspire members. This sees most cooperatives dying within a short period as members do not have a common inspirational goal in mind.
Most cooperatives have poor access to markets. This is due to lack of marketing skills by cooperatives’ members. Another reason is that they face stringent technical requirements and conditions for entry in such markets. In the end, the whole essence of having a cooperative vanishes because they can no longer effectively engage in cooperative marketing. What follows is that the members start side-selling their products as individuals at lower prices. Most cooperatives experience market failure and post harvest losses because without research to understand market needs they tend to produce products they traditionally used to cultivate which may not be needed on the market.
Poor support on the supply-side such as farm inputs, packaging materials, and agro-processing equipment poses a big challenge. This problem is even compounded by poor access to corporate finances such that members have always needed to dig out their pockets to finance daily cooperative activities and lack of appropriate technologies and business tools such as business plans to guide their present and future business decisions. The result is that it affects ownership of the cooperatives on the part of members making the initiatives unsustainable.
GMK: In what way would you say the agricultural cooperatives have affected the household incomes of smallholder farmers and particularly their ability to remain food-secure?
Kamchacha: Through cooperatives which provide social collateral, some farmers who could otherwise be marginalized if they operated as individuals have been able to secure finances from banks as capital for collective production. The food produced and income generated in agricultural cooperatives is distributed to all participating members and their households.
GMK: In what way would you explain how the policy or legislative framework (or lack of it) affects either the successes or challenges of agricultural cooperatives?
Kamchacha: In the absence of import substitution policy to protect our infant industry of cooperatives, there is an influx of cheap foreign agricultural products which Malawi is able to produce competently, thereby posing stiff competition. The export strategy or policy does not have mechanisms on how to integrate cooperative to directly participate in export business.
GMK: Are the current agricultural policies or pieces of legislation gender-sensitive? Explain how they affect rural women farmers in particular?
Kamchacha: Most women work longer hours in the farm than men. Specifically, research has established that about 80 percent of production work is done by women. However, they benefit little or nothing from sales of their household produce as men being heads of families decide where to sale, at what price and what to do with the profit? There is lack of legislation to protect women to demand justice in sharing of farm proceeds.
The distance to most lucrative markets located in the urban areas is very long for women farmers to access. As a result, it only takes men to take their proceeds to such markets. Otherwise women decide to sale at lower prices to vendors who flock to the villages. The current Agriculture and Trade policies do not provide adequate mechanism to build market infrastructures or improve road networks in the rural areas to allow big buyers easily access such areas.
Government is promoting value addition through agro-processing. However, the current policies do not assess the type, size and nature of machinery required for processing of various commodities and how they can easily be adapted by women. This could end up excluding most women farmers in the agro-processing sector.
GMK: How can Government improve any gaps in the current policy or legislative framework?
Kamchacha: One of the gaps in the current agricultural policies is their failure for effective implementation. This is because farmers who are the producers are not involved in the policy development process. Government must therefore fully and genuinely engage farmers in the formulation of policies and legislations to have their buy-in in the implementation. Without their involvement farmers lack commitment and capacity to drive programmes like the Greenbelt Initiative.
Most of the current pieces of legislation regulating the markets are outdated. For example, the minimum capital requirement for foreign companies to operate business in Malawi is lower. This leads to entry of most foreign businesses operating in the agribusiness sector thereby increasing unjust competition to cooperatives. Government must therefore regularly review provisions in the legislation to ensure they achieve the purpose they are established for all the times.
GMK: What advice would you give Government on how best to improve cooperatives especially in the context women and youth?
Kamchacha: It is high time we need to see a new blending of cooperatives which are highly business oriented and operate a strong commercial model to attract more investors and excel in today’s competitive business world.
Government must strive to support cooperatives in agriculture more especially for women and youth who are marginalized from mainstream economy as they are key drivers of rural industrialization and economic development, as they are able to create employment to the majority in the rural areas who are in abject poverty.