In a district where many men migrate to South Africa in search of better opportunities, leaving their wives and children behind, a group of women farmers have found a way to overcome the challenges of poverty and food insecurity.
The women, who live in Traditional Authority Chimwala in Mangochi, teamed up and started irrigation farming in 2018, selling their produce locally. A year later, they formed a cooperative called Kambiya and began supplying agricultural produce to local schools under the World Food Programme (WFP) Home Grown School Feeding initiative.
The initiative is a win-win arrangement, where the women provide nutritious food for school children, such as maize, soya, fruits, vegetables, groundnuts, rice and sweet potatoes, and receive regular payments from WFP. This has increased school retention and attendance in the area, as well as the financial capacity and empowerment of the women.
Patuma Saidi Simba, aged 42, is one of the members of the Kambiya cooperative. She said that at the end of each school term when they deliver the food to the schools, they make not less than K8 million as a group.
“We are very happy with this programme because it has changed our lives. We can pay school fees for our children, buy clothes, build houses and even save some money,” said Simba.
Simba said that other farmers who were just farming on small pieces of land have also increased their acreage to produce more food for the schools. She said that through the Agricultural Commercialisation (AGCOM) Project, a government initiative that seeks to drive agricultural growth, the Kambiya cooperative received a grant of K87.7 million to boost their business.
“With this money, we have bought four extra greenhouses, a tractor, a maize mill, a warehouse and a borehole. We are now able to grow crops all year round, process our maize and store our produce safely,” she said.
Simba also shared her personal success story of building a new house, buying a motorcycle and acquiring four new garden plots for farming. She said that for the first two acres, she will cultivate maize and groundnuts, and the remaining two will be for soya.
“Even though my husband is in South Africa, I can fend for myself and my children. I am proud of what I have achieved as a woman farmer,” she said.
Kambiya cooperative, which has 69 women and eight men, is now supplying food to four primary schools in the district. They also sell their produce individually to other markets. At the end of each year, they share the dividends generated by the cooperative.
The women farmers in Mangochi are not only improving their livelihoods but also contributing to the national agricultural and educational policies and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By practising irrigation and greenhouse farming, they are enhancing food and nutrition security, as well as climate resilience.
By participating in the school feeding programme, they are supporting quality education and gender equality. By forming a cooperative and accessing financial services, they are promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work.
Home Grown School Feeding is a programme that links smallholder farmers to school feeding, creating a stable market for their produce and improving the quality and diversity of school meals.
The programme is implemented by WFP in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, and other partners. It currently covers 28 districts in Malawi, reaching over 1.2 million primary school children.