So many farm products, no markets. That is part of the song for most small scale entrepreneurs and farmers in Malawi ’s rural areas.
Quite ironic a song for a people who have been independent since July 6, 1964 because, often, this has translated into starvation in the midst of plenty. More marketable resources, no cash to offset some of life’s basic needs. At one time, the national percentage of those who swam towards the verge of malnutrition was well over 58 per cent, a trend that is now changing following the institution of stringent government mechanisms, through vibrant nutrition policies through the Office of the President and Cabinet’s Department for Nutrition, HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Mary Shawa, the Department’s Principal Secretary, has become synonymous with Malawi ’s success story in the areas of nutrition, HIV and AIDS.
While things seem to be moving in nutrition, HIV and AIDS, one area that seems to have been late to catching the drift of the changing tides is small scale entrepreneurship for the rural masses. These people only depend on up town markets such as Limbe, Mzuzu and Lilongwe for their product sales or purchases, something that eats much into their pockets as they pay blood in transport costs, and burn their sweat in unproductive business.
This is fast becoming clear, at least for the people of Thyolo, a district in Southern Malawi , well known for its never-ending supply of farm products.
No story of bananas, pine apples, sugarcane, Mangoes, Tomatoes, Onions, green maize, sweet and Irish potatoes, and other grain products is told without mentioning the names Thyolo (district), Mulanje, Dedza, Ntcheu. But, quite ironically, the people in these areas also contribute significantly towards the country’s high poverty levels.
“There is really nothing to show for our sweat except for our deformed hands. We work all day, all year round but get nothing in return. I think it’s because we have not sat down to see why we have failed to develop and transform our households all these years; we need something new now,” says Group Village Headman Mauwa of Thyolo.
Mauwa looks like the ordinary villager, breathes like one- nothing strange about him. But, man, the traditional leader is about to bring about a revolution in the social-economic status of his subjects in Thyolo East Constituency.
Realizing that poverty can not be eradicated by hoping for a better tomorrow, Mauwa has mobilized his subjects, and convinced the Malawi Entrepreneurship Development Institute (Medi- one of the country’s top capacity builders in small scale entrepreneurship) to start a pilot initiative for a small scale development centre. This is a place where, three months from now, a products and services’ marketing centre will stand and carter for the economic needs of Thyolo East constituents.
The land upon which the centre will stand used to be some desolate, unproductive land. No positive hopes could be attached to it. Now that is set to change.
“We want to transform our lives here, and that is the reason we sat down as a community to consider something we could do, something that could have sustainable social-economic impacts. We settles for a small scale market development centre called Thyolo East Small Scale Market Development Centre. We will be selling our products and services here, unlike in the past when people used to flock to Blantyre City and Limbe to sell their farm produce or buy their needs,” said Mauwa.
This is a new development in Malawi , and Mauwa hopes that the initiative will be replicated in other parts of Malawi should it turn out to be a success.
For Minister of Trade and Industry, Eunice Kazembe, the development could turn out to be another economic spinner for Malawi , as community members will now be able to trade at their own terms and within their own localities.
“Other countries started the same way, small. These communities must be commended for sitting down and resolving to do something about their situation. I see sustainable social-economic change coming; I see poverty being alleviated, and development bridges being constructed,” said Kazembe.
For Medi Executive Director Charles Kazembe, it is a story of how communities an influence positive change and help towards uplifting their own economic standards.
“I was surprised and, at the same time, encouraged with what people of Thyolo East agreed to do. Imagine, they have volunteered to do many things: they have burned the bricks for construction of two brocks to be used as the market centre and are constructing the structures. Their women are bringing sand from far away places using their heads, and fetching water from rivers from construction work. I am amazed,” said Kazembe.
It is intimated that the initiative will help rescue community members from the pangs of poverty by providing a ready market for their farm produce, and provide a ready meeting place for positive community discourse. Some community members have already started talking of putting in place revenue collection mechanisms to help towards maintenance of the market.
“We also want 35 per cent of the revenue collected from the market centre to go towards community development initiatives. Such revenue can also help us provide food and other resources to the less privileged, including the provision of subsidized fertilizer to the aged and those who cannot afford a bag of fertilizer,” said Amadu Chanza, a community member.
The hopes must really be high for Thyolo East communities, something that started one day by the mere act of a resolute communities sitting under village headman Mauwa’s Mahogany tree. The tree also serves as a court.