OPINION PIECE: AgriSMEs in Malawi in the Context of COVID-19: Impacts and Interventions
The Government of Malawi recognizes the need to enhance the productivity of smallholder farmers as a means for achieving agricultural growth and poverty alleviation, this actualizing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs have targeted agriculture as a driver of socio-economic development and recognize that food security is a pre-requisite for economic growth and poverty alleviation. Indeed, the sector contributes 38% of the GDP, and provides a livelihood for 85% of the population (MoAIWD, 2012). The agriculture sector in Malawi is customarily divided into two main sub-sectors, namely: the smallholder and the estate sub-sector.
Smallholder farmers comprise of an estimated 2 million farming families and cultivate about 4.5 million hectares of land. However, smallholder farmers in Malawi continue to face constraints with respect to access to improved agricultural inputs, technology, information, financing and markets. The priority in this regard, is therefore, to improve agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers, who are currently on the periphery of the economy, to actively participate in the economic activities in Malawi. To improve smallholder farmers productivity, the role of the private sector, more so of the AgriSMEs along the Agricultural input and ouput/produce value chain cannot be ignored or denied. The AgriSMEs are the major link along the Agricultural input and output/produce value chain between suppliers, markets and smallholder farmers. The AgriSMEs also serve as providers of basic agricultural extension services to farmers, creating a very useful and accessible resource for knowledge and advice on improved agricultural inputs, technologies, best agronomic practices and produce markets.
The COVID-19 pandemic has become the defining global health crisis that has also greatly affected African livelihoods more so the in the agricultural inputs delivery, production systems, food security and agricultural livelihoods. Malawi has not been spared, in March 2020, the government of Malawi declared a state of disaster and later declared as a formidable disease. Various activities in the country have slowed down, causing a set back on the economic and social development of the country. The lockdowns imposed by various countries has affected Malawi greatly, in that not only is it a landlocked country, it depends on imports of agricultural products and raw material that are used in the country. This has led to; agricultural inputs and its raw materials shortage, creating deliberate shortage by â€œhidingâ€ products, increase in product and transport prices, low customer purchasing power, Low agricultural inputs demand thus low sales, rising overhead costs etc. This has greatly affected the AgriSMEs operations and performance, to also adhere to the imposed government regulations to curb the spread of the virus, the business is incurring extra costs not envisioned or budget for. The output/produce market has also been affected in that; there is uncertainty since most of the exporters with overseas contracts are not sure if their contracts will be honored, scale down in produce stocking, low Produce sale prices below production costs, farmers are forced to sell produce at very low prices to middlemen and brokers due to market closure.
On another note, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a fruitful business opportunity for the well established AgriSMEs; they are able to sell personal protective equipment (PPEs), appropriate waste bins, water buckets, appropriate Sanitizers and disinfectant, providing spraying services, bulking produce from farmers etc. This AgriSMEs have positioned themselves to work with local government, NGOS and community based organizations to supply the listed above products and services.
BY: Phyness Thembulembu, Malawi Country Programs Manager
Fighting COVID 19 at Makungulu village, Likoma District. North of Malawi.