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The voice of the community on COVID-19: Impact on rural livelihood; the case of Mawindo

05 May 2020

Peter Mawindo is a sole proprietor based in Dedza, Malawi. The company is well placed to offer agricultural inputs including fertilizer, seeds and agrochemicals. Mawindo has been in this agro-based business for over 17 years. Currently Mawindo is an official distributor of SEEDCO and Yara products, among others. This has been possible because of the trust he has gained with customers and other stakeholders. Mr Mawindo’s main strength has been that he has both seasonal and permanent shops all over Dedza. The shops are open from 5 a.m. until 6 p.m., which increases his availability and accessibility. He is a diversified businessman who deals with both inputs and output. He has also recently embarked on an added-value enterprise with sunflowers, from which he produces cooking oil. Mr Mawindo has been subcontracting farmers as well as farmer cooperatives to grow sunflowers for the company.

 

With AFAP intervention, Peter Mawindo has been able to recruit one extension agent; he has seven shop assistants and four watchmen; and a total number of 10 retailers. He has also been instrumental in establishing demo plots to create awareness and demand.

 

The impact of COVID-19 on Mawindo Enterprise

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has not spared Mawindo Enterprise’s operations. The business has been hit so hard that some of its business activities have had to be scaled down. The pandemic has come at a time when sales In Malawi are generally low (February to May) because it is during this time that most of the crops are in the field and smallholder farmers are also busy there. Fertilizer sales are down except for smallholder farmers who are doing winter cropping. However, this year it is more worrisome and Mr Mawindo is left with a very difficult decision about how to reduce his overheads. He is faced with questions like:

  • Should I lay off part of my staff during this period to reduce the costs? and
  • Should I close my shops and transfer all the stock to one store or warehouse in order to reduce the overheads?

 

 The impact of COVID-19 on input supplies

It is Peter Mawindo’s experience from previous years in the agrodealer business, that in the period from April to June his company’s sales usually pick up again after the season. This is because farmers are busy buying crop-protection products, inputs for winter and, in some instances, also fertilizers after they sell their produce. However, the situation this year has changed. During this period, Mr Mawindo says, “I would push up to 300mts of fertilizer but now I only have 53mts. And in terms of seed during winter the business would push about 15mts but to date we have only moved 3mts of seed”. COVID- 19 has affected his business as follows:

  • Malawi is a landlocked country and is dependent on neighbouring countries such as Mozambique and Tanzania. Due to the border closure in most countries, suppliers do not have enough inputs to distribute to agrodealers.
  • Most suppliers have in stock inputs such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), which are not required in large quantities by farmers.
  • The business has been utilizing farmers in groups and cooperatives. They buy in bulk and sometimes this is done in an arranged market setup, for which Mr Mawindo delivers the inputs. This not the case this year as large crowds are not allowed to gather at one place. Farmers have to make arrangements for themselves and this is affecting vulnerable groups such as the elderly and disabled who used to benefit from this initiative.
  • Most farmers are selling their produce at a cheaper price due to a lack of reliable markets and fewer customers, and therefore they have less money to purchase inputs.
  • During the recently ended season Peter Mawindo established almost 500 demos across the district. However, he did not manage to conduct field days as required due to restrictions on social distancing.

These are just a few of the factors that have led to the slow movement of the business.

 

The impact of COVID-19 on output marketing

This year’s output market has other uncertainties.

  • Most of the exporters with oversees contracts are not sure that their overseas market are going to honor their contracts because of the lockdowns. Whilst this may seem to be a threat to local produce, it is also an opportunity to buy more produce and stock for future sales locally.
  • Some large buyers have scaled back the quantities of the produce they were expecting to buy.
  • Purchasing power has gone down and this has affected Mawindo Enterprise negatively because not as many farmers as expected are buying inputs.

The decision to invest in output marketing is affecting Peter Mawindo personally. He has to make the decision between investing in the purchase of produce to meet anticipated huger, or not doing this for fear that he will not be able to find a market should the situation stabilize. The prices for farm produce have gone down but as an agrodealer he does not have the financial muscle to buy the produce. Every year by this time, he would have bought 200mts of farm produce but he has only managed to buy 125mts.

 

Establishment of winter demos

Winter demos are also affected because not many companies are as forthcoming as usual. At the moment it is only Seed Co, which has given Mawindo Enterprise 2kg  each of two varieties of maize seed and 90g of vegetables (nine varieties at 10g each) to establish winter demos.

 

Mitigating factors

Not all is lost with the pandemic. Agriculture will have to continue. April to June is the peak time for post-harvest crop-protection products (CPPs), vegetable seed and chemicals and winter-cropping inputs. Mawindo Enterprise is using an approach recommended by AFAP to enable them to carry on business as usual while practicing social distancing.

  • Mawindo Enterprise is providing extension to farmers on a one-on-one basis at the shop and through organised study circles. A study circle is a diverse small group of seven to 15 individuals who meet once a week for not more than an hour.
    • AFAP has adopted this approach to work with Lead Farmers (LFs) in a small group set up to discuss post-harvest and winter cropping best practices. The LFs are entrusted to impart this knowledge in a similar setup to Community Agribusiness Advisors (CAAs) where applicable, or to use Radio Listening Groups (RLGs) and Village Loan Saving groups (VLSs). The CAAs and other club leaders then organize smaller groups to impart the same
  • The other method being used is the distribution of leaflets from various companies but the approach is limited by literacy levels.
  • Since they are used to approaching and working with Mawindo Enterprise, other farmers are asking for assistance through an individual meeting or by phone, should they face any challenges in their farming.

Figure 2: Mawindo Enterprise in good times      

 

Figure 3: Mawindo during lockdown