Written by Brian Kachisa, CIP Training and Promotion Officer
Market linkages is one of the key issues that inhibits the development of agriculture among smallholder and commercial farmers in Malawi. This limitation is especially prominent in relatively new crops such as orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes (OFSP) for which the market is seasonal in nature.
George Mhango, president of the newly formed National Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato Association (OFSPA), seeks to transform this constraint. OFSPA members consisting of 75 registered commercially oriented OFSP producers now boast of about 100 hectares of land committed to OFSP vine and root production spread across the country. The association was formed with the aim of contributing to the development of the OFSP roots and vines for both local and export market.
The association was born out of the innovative approach of the OFSP component of the Feed the Future Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies project (MISST). The project has trained over 40 commercially oriented OFSP producers in vine multiplication to enhance the sustainable supply of clean planting material in Mchinji, Lilongwe, Dedza, Ntcheu, Balaka, Machinga, and Mangochi districts.
In the column titled “My Turn,” Brian Kachisa of the International Potato Center (CIP) brought to light that the increasing demand for OFSP vines is exceeding supply at the onset of the rainy season. This calls for bold and enterprising farmers to invest in large areas of irrigable land for multiplication of planting material that should supply adequate quantities when needed by the growing market. The formation of OFSPA is a big leap in the right direction.
“OFSPA is here to transform the OFSP supply chain in Malawi that has so far been heavily infested by middlemen who are interfering with the market,” said George during the launch of the association on 1 May 2017, in Balaka District.
OFSPA has seven specific objectives, to: (1) commercially produce high-quality and certified OFSP planting material; (2) commercially produce high-quality OFSP roots; (3) secure sustainable markets for certified planting material and high-quality roots; (4) promote value addition to OFSP roots; (5) secure local and international markets for both fresh and processed roots; (6) build capacity in the production, marketing, and processing planting material and roots; and (7) lobby and advocate for a conducive business environment for members of the association to invest in OFSP.
George and the members of OFSPA see many opportunities and advantages of forming the association. One such benefit is that the association can serve as a link between the farmers and key stakeholders, including the government, donors, NGOs, and public and private companies that have a stake in the sweetpotato value chain.
OFSPA is formally registered as a company by limited liability with the vision to become a commercial hub for OFSP farmers in Malawi. Currently, it is working with International Potato Centre (CIP) under the Feed the Future Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies (MISST) project to identify and address key challenges in the value chain.
These challenges include the domination of middlemen, which prevents the “actual” OFSP farmers accessing viable and sustainable markets for both planting material and roots and that can demotivate farmers. OFSPA also sees the need to transform the OFSP value chain where middlemen have an upper-hand when it comes to striking good deals and contracts with buyers of both roots and planting material. The MISST project has played a pivotal role in the success of the association’s formation, with initial training and provision of clean start-up material for the association members.