MALAWI: The Voice of the Community in Malawi on the Impact on Rural Livelihoods – The Case of Agriculture Direct Limited (ADL)
Agriculture Direct Limited (AD) is a Malawi owned private company based in Lilongwe with its office in Kanengo. It was registered in 2004 and started its full operations in 2008. Since then the company has been carrying out retail trading of supplying high quality agricultural supplies mainly for both poor resource endowed small-holder farmers and large estate sector of Malawi. The company sells fertilizers, agrochemicals, maize hybrid seeds, vegetable seeds and general hardware supplies.
ADL is also one of the official distributors of SEEDCO maize, has strong dealership accounts with PANNAR Malawi Ltd and Monsanto. On agrochemicals, the company sells of all types of chemicals at very competitive prices. The proprietor of AD is a qualified Agriculturalist.
With AFAP intervention, Gomonda has been able to recruit an extension agent, 7 retailers, 40 Community Agribusiness Advisor (CAAs) in addition to his own 7 outlets (shops) located at Nathenje, Nanjiri, Chigwirizano, Area 23 (2 outlets), Kauma and Kanengo all in Lilongwe. He is one of the leading agro-dealer businesses operating in the district of Lilongwe. Gomonda has been very instrumental in establishment of demos for demand creation and awareness of new fertilizer blends in both AGRA and BMGF projects.
Gomonda has one (1) extension agent, Kenneth Singini -Extension Worker for AD (on the left) based at Nathenje Shop but he also oversees other outlets as well as the retailers under AD. When AFAP first introduced the concept of adding extension services to hub business development, Gomonda was one the few hubs who did not welcome the idea wholeheartedly until when he saw the results on the ground. â€œLet me be frank with you I was adamant with recruiting an extension worker but now with or without the project I will maintain my extension workerâ€
The Impact of COVID -19 on Agriculture Direct Business
As a company AD had planned to reach out to a target of about 6000 farmers during this season of harvesting and winter demos with topics on post-harvest handling, chemical calibration and safe-use and winter cropping but these activities have been affected by the pandemic. In addition these are not the only activities affected AD had planned postharvest field days which failed to take place in most of our operational areas and it has been a big blow to us as a company, since these field days act as both learning and marketing platform for our business products. The field days also act as a marketing tool for both respective and prospective farmers to appreciate, interact and learn new farming technologies.
The Impact of COVID -19 on Extension at Agriculture Direct
Business has not the same this time of the year as compared to other years. Many businesses have been affected with the new Corona Virus (Covid-19). AD has also not been spared. The Covid-19 has negatively affected our business creating fear among our farmers resulting in most farmers being afraid to reach out to our shops to purchase agri- inputs. This fear has lowered the sales significantly. The purchasing power has also gone with many markets still an unopened. The pandemic has not also spared the Extension Unit of AD
How AD is overcoming some of the COVID -19 Challenges
Despite the negative impact of the Covid-19 to our operations; we have come up with some ways, which we believe that it will positively contribute in helping our farmers. AD management has come up with guidelines that will ensure social distancing and restriction on the number of farmers who can attend any particular event. This has led to fewer participants and also in compliance with such guidelines.
On the Counter Advice
This is one of the approaches our sales personnel have been using and we are using the same to reach out to our valued farmers who visit us directly to all our AD shops. Farmers are given advice on areas to do with any issues affecting their farming in addition to post-harvest handling of chemicals and safe use of agri- chemicals. These farmers are highly encouraged to pass on the pieces of advices they have acquired from us on to their fellow farmers in their respective areas. With this approach we believe we are still making an impact to the farmers on the intended messages which are reaching to the other targeted farmers indirectly.
Community Agribusiness Advisors (CAA) Approach
AD has close ties with (CAAs) and through our meetings we have been teaching the CAAs various topics including post- harvest and safe use of chemicals. The approach requires each CAA to reach out 5 Lead Farmers (LF) who in turn are expected to the reach out to 20 Farmer Followers (FF) giving us a total of 105 farmers reached per CAA. Since AD has 40 CAAs, it means that the company will be reaching out to about 4200 farmers through CAA approach and 1800 through other approaches.
Village Savings Groups
As one way of helping farmers to prepare for the next growing season, AD with the help of Government Extension Officers established village savings farmer clubs in some of its operational areas. These farmer savings clubs are aimed at saving money with the goal of purchasing agri-inputs (i.e. fertilizer and seed) from any of the AD shops. The inputs once paid for by the farmers will be delivered at their nearest cluster points in their villages for easy picking from delivery trucks to their homes.
These farmersâ€™ clubs are also acting as platforms for AD to spread the good agriculture practices (GAP) messages to farmers. Through this approach we have been able to reaching out to an audience of 255 farmers.
In conclusion, the COVID -19 total impacts on the business are difficult to tell right now as the situation is still fluid and evolving every day. Farmers are trying to adjust to the reality of the pandemic. Experts are predicting more difficult times ahead; however, AD remains committed to helping the farmers and the communities. We are aware that the uncertainty is overwhelming but are still committed to providing helpful information to all our valued farmers within the limits of the COVID -19 social distancing guidelines as set up by the Government of Malawi.