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USAID’s AgDiv project to change lives

By Kondwani Magombo

Beneficiaries of the project welcome the USAID high-level delegation at Galang’ombe Village, TA Khongoni, Lilongwe Pic. By Moses Nyirenda _ Mana

Mana: If soya bean price this growing season will go as high as K800/per kg as it did in the past two seasons, 23-year-old small-scale farmer, Fatinesi Beliyamu, is likely to pocket at least K640,000 from her 0.6ha piece of land, which is expected to give her at least 800kg of soybean harvest!

Another small-scale farmer with similar anticipation is Dorothy Emanuel, 36, and a mother of 5 children. Like Beliyamu, Emanuel’s piece of land measures 0.6ha and she’s expecting a yield of 800kg of the grain, too.

Beliyamu and Emanuel hail from Kasiya, Galang’ombe Village, Traditional Authority (TA) Khongoni in Lilongwe. The anticipated abundant harvest is four times what the individual farmers have usually been harvesting previously.

Beliyamu shows off her soybean garden Pic. By Mosesy Nyirenda _ Mana

Such anticipation is common among hundreds of farmers in TA Khongoni, Lilongwe, and probably among thousands of farmers who are beneficiaries of the Input Loan Programme which is being implemented through the Ukraine Supplemental Funding.

The programme is being implemented with the support of Feed the Future Agriculture Diversification Activity (AgDiv), a programme under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The beneficiaries’ expectations this season are very high and the farmers are dreaming big.

“I am very happy to be among the farmers benefiting from this project: I got 25kg of certified Tikolore soybean seed, 2 sachets of inoculant and K20,000,” explained Beliyamu when USAID high profile delegation visited the village, recently, to appreciate progress of the project and how it is impacting people’s lives.

“From this small piece of land I am expecting to harvest at least 16 bags of soybean grain each weighing 50kg – far beyond what I have been harvesting all along,” the 23-year-old farmer told the visitors.

From the look of the healthy soybean crop in the fields in the area, it is evident that the USAID-supported AgDiv input loan program is a game changer.

With hundreds of beneficiaries anticipating bumper yields and, subsequently, more money from the sales, the area’s traditional authority was the happiest to report the success to the visiting delegation.

“This project is going to change the lives of my subjects dramatically because it is multiplying their yields several folds. We are appreciative of the support that USAID is giving us and I pray that the Agency should consider bringing more beneficiaries on board,” TA Khongoni told the visiting team.

TA Khongoni – happy with the success her subjects are registering Pic. By Moses Nyirenda _ Mana

According to the project’s outline, USAID has invested additional US$8.4 million (over K8.5bn) towards the input financing and food security program through the Feed the Future AgDiv. The aim is to mitigate effects that the Russia’s war on Ukraine have brought on Malawi’s food security.

With this funding, AgDiv provided affordable input packages to over 75,000 households in Malawi, including 1,000 farmers in TA Khongoni.

The project outline further says AgDiv provided a sub-grant to a local NGO, the Women’s Legal Resources Center (WORLEC), to implement an input financing package for legume production.

“WOLREC distributes 25kg of soybean seed and 2 sachets of inoculant to each farmer, and farmers then pay back the equivalent of US$70 (K71,000) into a revolving seed fund after harvesting and selling their grain,” explains the project outline.

To put it in perspective, the project outline quotes AgDiv’s political economy analysis of March 2021 that “closing the yield gaps for maize, soybean, and groundnut between Malawi and its neighbors would result in an increase in production value equal to a 15 percent increase in Malawi’s GDP”.

According to the outline, AgDiv will work with value chain partners such as Pyxus Agriculture, Community Finance, One Acre Fund, and WOLREC to address gaps in agricultural finance and to sustain and expand rural finance programs.

The USAID high-level delegation that visited TA Khongoni in January was led by Dina Esposito, who, among other positions, is Acting Assistant to the Administrator for the Agency’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security (RFS).

Esposito and Dr. Fawler (L) fascinated by Beliyamu’s (C) story and ambitions Pic. By Moses Nyirenda _ Mana

Esposito was, among others, accompanied by Dr. Cary Fowler, US Department of State’s Special Envoy for Global Food Security, and former Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust – an international organization that is cosponsored by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The personal interaction with the farmers, hearing their stories and anticipations, coupled with the physical inspection of the green, healthy, and promising soybean crop in the fields left Esposito, Dr. Fowler and the entire team overwhelmed.

“We’re so impressed,” said Esposito in an interview after interacting with the farmers at Galang’ombe Village in TA Khongoni.

She continued: “These are powerful women with ambition and recognition that farming is business that has the opportunity to change their lives.

Dr. Fowler addresses the project beneficiaries at Galang’ombe Village, TA Khongoni, Lilongwe Pic. By Moses Nyirenda _ Mana(1)

“We heard about a woman who wants to build a new house; we heard about a young woman who wants to buy a motor cycle, and a cart for farming purposes. These are the things that give us hope, and give the community hope.”

Esposito noted that there exists global food crisis caused by so many different factors such as COVID-19, Russia’s invasion on Ukraine, macroeconomic shocks, and that there remains need for interventions to bail out people from the crisis.

Therefore, the team’s visit to Malawi had helped them understand how USAID’s programs under Feed the Future are helping communities like the one in TA Khongoni cope and adapt in the face of the new crisis.

“What we’re seeing here is the acceleration of innovative ideas, new seeds, and new opportunities to grow incomes despite the fact that there’s crisis,” explained Esposito, who is also Feed the Future Deputy Coordinator for Development, and USAID Global Food Crisis Coordinator.

According to her, the programmes that USAID is supporting in Malawi are working with the private sector companies to create market for produce such as groundnut and soybean so that farmers like Beliyamu and Emanuel are not stuck with their harvests.

“We think that way, these private sector companies can work with the smallholder farmers to make sure that they have access to seed, and access to other inputs, and sustained access to markets: This is the way the economy of Malawi can grow,” she said. 

Although the Government of Malawi’s Agriculture Inputs Program provides affordable seeds and fertilizers to millions of households in the country, still, there are gaps in accessing agricultural inputs and input financing to many a farmer for them to produce enough and power the agricultural engine that drives the country’s economy.

The USAID’s Feed the Future AgDiv Input Loan Program is, therefore, a stitch not only in time but at the right place as, without it, the likes of Beliyamu and Emanuel would not be dreaming about pocketing over half a million Kwacha, let alone building a modern house and buying assets such as a motorcycle and an oxcart.

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