Here are some of
our stories. Of course we have chosen some of
the better cases for illustration of our work. But make no mistake,
these stories are not exaggerated. They are the stories of some of the
more motivated and resourceful farmers with whom we have dealt and they
reflect a certain enthusiasm and commitment which exists within the
broader communities where they live.
Mwera is a small village about 100 km north of Lilongwe, Malawi. "Mkaka" means "milk" in the local language, Chichewa. The Mwera Mkaka project is a dairy development project which started in the year 2000. At that time, it was based around a group of smallholder farmers who wanted to move into dairy production.
With assistance from the Irish charity, Bóthar, SSLLP developed and supported a project to distribute dairy cattle to farmers in the area and today more than 100 farmers there are involved in dairy production. In 2002, a cooling centre was established at Mwera Village, to keep bulk milk which was collected by tanker and sold to a dairy processing plant in the capital, Lilongwe.
In 2004, again with assistance from Bóthar, a dairy processing plant was added so that fresh milk and two types of yoghurt could be sold directly from the centre. All this required a long term program of training including organisation of farmer groups, animal health and production, dairy production, dairy processing, financial management, as well as the many and varied skills required for efficient operation of the plant. Through funding from Bóthar, Heifer International, and USAID, SSLLP has been able to give the long term support required to ensure the continuing success of this operation.
Whilst independent sustainability is clearly a prime objective, there yet remains work to be done and SSLLP is continuing its involvement with assistance from Nordic Humanitarian Aid.
The beauty of the green hills around the village of Mwera in
Ntchisi District, Malawi, stands in contrast with the long struggle the
village has undergone to achieve its current small measure of
prosperity. Before 2000, the village and surrounding area was well
known throughout the district for its poverty.
Rodson Chikadewa is the Business Promotion Officer for Ntchisi District and representative for the District Commissioner. Chikadewa has a long history in the district and he put forward some of his thoughts on how and why the situation has turned around.
"I think there are two things which have really helped in this area," he said, "the introduction of irrigation and the Mwera Mkaka dairy project."
As a member of the Mwera Mkaka Advisory Board, Chikadewa has a bird's eye view of its operation. He has been involved since the year 2000, before any building had been constructed. In those early days, it was necessary to start with the basics. A community based farmer group existed but its members had no idea of how to form a cooperative society. With the help of SSLLP and funding from Bóthar, Chikadewa helped to train these ordinary rural farmers in the basics of a cooperative society, how to write a constitution, how to elect members, how to do basic book-keeping. These things might sound fairly simple to you and me, but in the deprived environment of Mwera village, those were the skills that were badly needed.
In 2000, SSLLP first obtained funding from Bóthar to distribute dairy heifers to farmers in Mwera and the surrounding area. Today more than 100 farmers in the area have received heifers via the project. Naturally, things started on a small scale and milk was sold locally where and when the opportunity arose. As the level of milk production slowly grew, a cooling centre was built so that milk could be bulked and held for collection by a dairy factory located some 100 km away in the capital, Lilongwe. Then, in 2004, again with assistance from Bóthar, a processing plant was added so that milk could be pasteurised and packaged on site and sold directly by the cooperative. In 2007, the cooperative itself purchased a small milk delivery vehicle and has since managed its running costs and maintenance. Today, fresh milk and two types of yoghurt are produced and sold from the plant.
Chikadewa is well aware that the story is by no means finished. He cites a recent event where his advisory board needed to provide guidance to the cooperative's management committee on the limitations of its jurisdiction. He is convinced the dairy initiative provides significant overall benefits to the local community and cites four reasons:
Farmers who had traditionally farmed at a subsistence level, were pressed to recognise farming as a business;
Community development - apart from the employment opportunities created by the production plant, there was a wider, palpable sense of pride and enthusiasm amongst members of the wider community;
Development of management skills - ordinary people with no prior exposure to the disciplined environment of a cooperative management committee were now required to develop the skills to make hard decisions affecting livelihoods;
In the broader community, there is a greater recognition of the value of education of children. People can now better see the benefits of education as a result of the cooperative's activities.
According to Chikadewa, there is plenty of work yet to be done. The cooperative management committee yet needs encouragement and guidance in how best to invest in plant maintenance and development; new members need training and guidance; expertise is always required particularly in areas such as recruitment of staff and in this, his advice is always valuable.
Maria Jereman has only been working at Mwera Mkaka dairy processing plant for a year but has no doubt that this is the best job she has had. Maria is employed as a milk tester by the dairy cooperative which SSLLP helped to establish.
Twice a day, smallholder farmers bring in the milk from cows around Mwera, a small village in the hilly and beautiful Ntchisi District of Malawi. Maria is the first person they deal with. She tests their milk before it is accepted for purchase by the cooperative which runs the processing plant.
Previously, Maria was a clerk working for a civil engineering company on road construction. Although that at least gave Maria an income, it involved continual travel from one place to another; not the ideal for a 26 year old single mother whose child was just starting school.
Maria no longer worries about her future.
Elizabeth Jere is a modest Malawian woman who clearly underestimates her own abilities. She is a very successful smallholder dairy farmer. She is also not very age conscious: "I don't know how old I am," she told us, "but I was born in 1953. You can work it out!"
Mrs Jere, whose husband "died long ago," first got involved in dairying in 2002 when she received one cow from SSLLP through financial assistance from Bóthar. "I am getting 28-30 litres a day from that cow just now" she said.
Mrs Jere couldn't say just how much money she now made from dairying but she knew that before 2002, she had no money to speak of.
Her modesty came through again when we asked her how much life was different now, since she started dairying. At first all she said was "Well you can see, now we live in a brick house!" but a bit of probing revealed more. She used to live with her two adult daughters in a mudbrick house. Finding sufficient food was always a problem before she had a regular income from dairy cows. Now she lives far more comfortably. With the money she has made from dairying, not only has she built the new brick house but she has also invested in her dairy enterprise by rebuilding her dairy shed with brick walls and a more durable roof.
She hasn't got electricity yet, but that is next on her list.
Yes, Zangaphe Kadewere is 75 years old and cannot wait till next year to see the results of further use of manure on his maize crop.
Kadewere lives in the beautiful Thyolo district of Southern Malawi, reknowned for its tea estates. Kadewere received a dairy cow some years ago under the "pass on the gift" system.
Apart from the milk he receives, he has taken a particular interest in using manure as a substitute for chemical fertiliser. Not your average smallholder farmer either, he had effectively set up a demonstration plot showing us the effect of two years of continuous use, compared to one year only, compared to none at all.
Kadewere no longer needs the expensive chemical fertilisers which are virtually essential elsewhere.
And in case you don't know, the crop shown here, after two years of manure use, is outstanding by any measure.