Supporting smallholder farmers in Malawi

Publish by : Jean Pierre Niyitanga

Bertha Likhaluwe, a mother of seven, in Thyolo district, has improved her living conditions significantly during the last eight years. From one cow, she constructed a modest new house, has sent her three children to secondary school, owns three cows and she is able to find necessities for her home.

Likhaluwe got her first cow as a loan from Shire Highlands Milk Producers Association (SHMPA), a sub-regional association in the southern region of Malawi under the umbrella organization, Malawi Milk Producers Association of Malawi (MMPA) and a beneficiary of the Uniterra Program jointly led by World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and Centre for International Cooperation (CECI).

Members of the association identify the poor in their communities and give them cows as a way of helping them to improve their lives. The cow is given in the form of a loan and the recipient pays back by giving the calf (pass on) and keeps the mother after it has given birth. Likhaluwe has already paid back and she now owns three cows.

Smallholder farmers like Likhaluwe work hard to develop but they face challenges in getting the milk to the market. They don’t produce enough to stimulate the interest of big buyers and when they sell to the middlemen, they receive a poor price. Uniterra volunteers facilitate smallholder farmers to come together so that they can attract buyers and have a bargaining power.

Likhaluwe sells milk to Mangunda bulking group that negotiates a better price for its members. On average, she sells 14 litres of milk per day which give her 63,000 Kwacha per month (around $100 CAD). She uses the money to take care of her family and food for her cows which in return give her fertilizers for the crops. She can harvest up to 20 bags of maize per season; something she didn’t manage to afford before getting a cow.

“Most people go hungry in my area but I always have food in my house,” Likhaluwe told the Uniterra team from Canada that visited her in early May 2016.


Mangunda bulking group serves 318 members including 120 women from a five km range distance. It collects 1200 liters of milk per day on average. A farmer gets 150 Kwacha per litre and the association sells it for 155 Kwacha. The profit is used to maintain the equipment and to buy utilities. In the near future, members plan to construct a wall around the premise to ensure good security of the property.

Uniterra volunteers also support farmers overcome challenges in accessing better treatment of their cattle and in attaining hygiene standard of milk.

In 2015, Dr. Gordon Stinson was in Malawi to help various milk bulking groups in the southern region of Malawi including Mangunda in curbing the prevalence of mastitis in dairy cows. He treated the cows and taught farmers how they can prevent mastitis from attacking their cattle.

Dickson Chipote, a member of the Mangunda bulking group was relieved when Stinson treated one of his three cows that had contracted mastitis. He said it could have been hard to find milk for his son or money to buy necessities for his family if Stinson wasn’t there. Because of the good work Stinson did with dairy farmers, they requested him to come back and he accepted.

Farmers were also trained to test milk before taking it to the milk bulking center for adulteration, and once arrived at the center, the milk is tested again to ensure quality control.

While farmers are excited about the good price, they face challenges in getting food for their cattle to produce enough milk. Currently, more than 100 members can’t get milk to sell. During drought, they need to buy supplementary food for cows and it’s not always possible because the money they get is primarily used to take care of their families.

“During drought, cows need maize to produce enough milk and at the same time farmers need the same maize to make nsima [staple food] to feed their families”, Zione Chiphaka, project officer at SHMPA.

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