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Improved livelihoods through sustainable intensification and diversification of market-oriented crop-livestock systems in southern Malawi

MSMEs stimulate farm income diversification and nutrition pathways in Malawi
Malawi is among the most food-insecure region in Sub-Saharan Africa, where resource scarcity, poverty, and population growth are some of the significant challenges. Since agriculture drives the country’s economy, solutions to major problems lie in improving the livelihoods of 2 million smallholder farm families in the region. Remember, Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that despite being resource-poor, smallholder farmers produce 80 percent of Malawi’s food and 20 percent of agriculture exports. Creating sustainable agri-food systems is needed for a food abundant and healthier future. The CLIM2 project (Crop Livestock Integration and Marketing in Malawi) explored how influencing high-value crop and livestock value chains can support income diversification and nutrition pathways through interlinked outcomes driven by MSMEs and entrepreneur groups. The project was implemented in 3 districts of southern Malawi – Balaka, Chiradzulu, and Thyolo, areas confined by
high dependence on agriculture but with very small farm sizes and limited opportunities outside of farming.

The project aimed to stimulate changes through various stakeholder networks using an Innovation
Platform approach, starting with system diagnosis and co-designing value chains with MSME entry points and interventions (Figure 1). Three years went into operationalizing the interventions in terms of infrastructure, training, and national policy dialogue to quantify the MSME business environment and farm-level outcomes.

  1. It was found that 8 out of 12-grain processing units helped farmers process grains other than maize locally. Activities undertaken resulted in food diversification through seed distribution, improved soil fertility, and integration with livestock.
  2. Changes appeared in the cropland area, which had increased in 2021 compared to 2017.
  3. Land under sorghum increased by 32%, and legumes increased by 13-14% under the leadership of female-headed households.
  4. Improved chicken production was considered a profitable enterprise with quick returns; more chicken and egg availability also enhanced food security, nutrition, and income.
  5. 41 out of the 45 goat entrepreneur groups were operational; they also increased flock sizes in less than one year, from 20 goats per group delivered by the project to 35 goats per group.
  6. The Phalula butchers progressed as goat meat sales and net returns increased. Contributing shares of 30,000 MK each increased their purchasing power to buy more goats at a time.
  7. 2 out of the three micro-dairy processing cooperatives made good progress and started producing yogurt regularly.

Meanwhile, MSMEs saw substantial progress in taking up leadership roles in improving farm diversification and integration, influencing communities through knowledge sharing and demonstrations. Many farmers mentioned business knowledge sharing and demonstrations, encouraged by visible profits, and initiating others to join the activities. The success lies in building human capacity to work together as a business enterprise and improve technical skills at the initial stage. Understanding businesses and market requirements, enhanced by group dedication, motivated improved farm management knowledge and practices, which improved
livestock health and quality products.

Agriculture in Malawi needs improved soil fertility management to enhance crop production. It further needs improved nutrition through seed support and indirectly through improved crop and
livestock production and livestock income. More than technical and infrastructure investments and improvements and continued human capital development are needed, which require a deeper re-organization and restructuration of the country’s agricultural extension and nutrition education support system. Engaging women and female-headed households through MSMEs were critical to addressing barriers for women participating in these value chains.

Working with diverse actors in the food system, research in collaboration with government agricultural extension, extended collaboration with nutrition education support structures and the private sector, brought in critical perspectives and ensured that interventions were participated by all stakeholders and informed by knowledge of the system. The project illustrated income diversification and nutrition improvement by engaging in high-value crop and livestock value chains. Inclusive business models, through MSMEs, were used to stimulate the value chains at multiple leverage points and resolve critical bottlenecks in processing variou sgrains to make food and feed products locally available and create new market outlets.

  • Hammer mills eased the processing of diverse grain for food and feed. The mills also save time and transport costs and provide security for women and children carrying out this work.
  • Dual-purpose chickens produced more eggs and meat at reduced feed costs and are more disease resistant and are easy to sell at local markets. Sustainable business models combine raising chickens with local feed processing and supplementary feeding.
  • Goat market aggregation infrastructure and price-quality mechanisms showcased ways to address multiple challenges simultaneously, on how to enhance goat supply and quality products, reduce transaction costs translating to higher payments to farmers, increase the intake of goats, and make hygienic goat meat available locally by upgrading local meat processing facilities.

Lastly, milk processing by bulking groups is tackled as an opportunity to reduce milk wastage and make dairy products locally available. The interventions brought forward a series of dialogues on nutrition, needs, and opportunities in agriculture, in support of greater participation of stakeholders in policy making, for more conducive business conditions. New roles are required to support the integration of different types of knowledge, supporting the vision and goals of the diverse stakeholders in the food system. Strengthening stakeholders’ collective engagement in design and feedback ensures better coordination and understanding, taking action to improve agri-businesses and the conditions in which they operate.

Lack of education, technical and business knowledge, and skills are vital challenges. Hence, MSME group learning approaches guided members to support each other towards more equitable roles, decision making, farm and business management. Women and youth participation in agri-businesses was critical for influencing farm production, income diversification, and nutrition improvement. The most critical shift involves new skills in agri-business coaching and the facilitation of market
relations which includes the ability to hand over ownership and control of business processes while acknowledging the limits of what can be delivered.

There is a need to partner with dietary nutrition programs to deliver nutrition extension messages with production diversity and dietary and health implications. Nutrition programs also serve as an opportunity to contribute to the production and dietary diversity and knowledge transfer to vulnerable groups. Nutrition programs also present supply chain opportunities for nutrient-dense foods that agricultural extension services should help to facilitate and implement. There is a need to ensure that agricultural programs target market development and nutrition outcomes, so that local communities can benefit, in terms of income generation from supplying to these markets, and nutrition benefits as products are also available.

Commercialization efforts should explicitly target households with different resource levels to participate in domestic and export opportunities. Social safety nets employing starter kits can temporarily support rural livelihoods, but they also need to accompany the shift towardsemployment in midstream agri-food segments

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