YAP proposal #59: Strengthening agriculture cooperatives (Mercilina Lwanda, Malawi)

Cooperative members After LeadershipTraining

My name is Mercilina Lwanda, I am aged 29. I am an agribusiness specialist by professional holding Master and Bachelor Degrees in Agribusiness Management obtained from the University of Malawi (Bunda College). Currently, I am working as a Country Technical Expert in Investment under the Cassava Adding Value for Africa (CAVA) Project within the Chemistry Department, Chancellor College.

The Government of Malawi has been promoting the establishment of farmer organizations including agriculture cooperatives in an effort to help small scale farmers improve their income and develop their managerial skills by venturing into a business oriented approach to farming. Despite the benefits associated with agriculture cooperatives, it has been noted that the performance and sustainability of most agriculture cooperatives as business entities in my community has been unsuccessful. The failure is mostly linked to lack of knowledge and understanding of the business model of a cooperative, their levels of business capital, access to credit, value addition activities, levels of production cost, target market and access to market information and management and organizational structures of cooperatives.

In relation to this background it is therefore important that members who want to join this type of farmer organisations have all the necessary information on agriculture cooperatives business model before they venture into its business in order to improve the levels of its performance and sustainability. Those that have already joined need to be reoriented on the basics of their organisation.

This project is about raising awareness on benefits of agriculture cooperatives and capacity building on business oriented to farming using agriculture cooperative business model. Raising awareness and imparting the right knowledge and skills will bring in the change of mindset on farming as usual. Change of mindset is the most important tool for poverty alleviation. Capacity building has the potential to remain even after the funding window. Farmers will still have the knowledge on how to do it and continue to do it for their survival.

The project will do a number of community mobilization and sensitization on benefits and advantages of farmer organizations with an emphasis on agriculture cooperatives business model for community members who would like to join. It will also involve re-orientation of existing cooperative members on business management, cooperatives, entrepreneurship and leadership to improve their skills and understanding of business issues. Agriculture Extension Development officers who are working under Ministry of Agriculture within the community will also be trained on the same as trainer of trainers so that they can replicate the same across the area. This will ensure sustainability and ripple effect impact.

In a period of 6 months the project will be able to show meaningful progress, in community mobilization and capacity building. The Project will implement these principles using a method of asset based community development approach. This method focuses on community’s assets first which is the base or root from which communities should start from and ensures ownership and sustainability. The methodology will involve strategy development by cooperative members in identifying challenges and risks faced by their farmer organisations, how to overcome them, how to progress after failure and action plan.

This project aims at building capacity leading to successful agriculture business performance and sustainability thereby meeting the objective of increasing farmer base of income; when a farmer has a stable and certain source of income it changes life (food availability, supply basic needs, healthy life, active participation in development and all that concerns making his life better)

What motivates me to do this project is the passion to see my community member’s lives change for the better. Through the project funds I will help to build capacity of these farmers and make them believe in themselves that it is possible to run a thriving and successful business enterprise even though they are not educated to fit a certain standard. A long term solution is in providing them with a thing that no one can take it away from them and thus ‘’Knowledge”. This is considered to be effective way because once one has been taught how to fish; he will be fishing to get money than giving one the fish which is already caught, which is not sustainable. I take myself as a leader and Leadership comes in leading by example in addressing this challenge.

Through the organisation that I am working with I have managed to train a number of farmer agriculture cooperatives in crop production and business management skills. We have successfully facilitated creation of business opportunities for the private sector partners which have ensured market access for farmers. Some of the products have been sold to manufacturing industries in Malawi.

Measurable Indicators include:

  • Number of community mobilization and awareness campaigns
  • Number of agribusiness management trainings conducted
  • Number of agriculture cooperatives trained in my community
  • Number of Agriculture extension workers trained

Activity Budget:

  • Conduct 2 Community mobilization and awareness campaign meetings: US$533
  • Conduct Reorientation of 25 existing agriculture cooperatives members (3 members each cooperative): US$1600
  • Conduct Training of Trainers on business management skills training to 15 Agriculture Extension Development Officer: US$1333
  • Compile handouts on Agriculture Cooperative business management skills (stationery cost): US$633
  • Operational costs: US$500
  • Hiring cost: US$400

Total Cost US$4999

Blogpost and picture submitted by Mercilina Lwanda (Malawi) –linahlwanda[at]gmail.com

The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.


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135 thoughts on “YAP proposal #59: Strengthening agriculture cooperatives (Mercilina Lwanda, Malawi)

  1. I have worked with Mercelina and I don’t doubt her resolve to advance agri business in Malawi. Cooperatives are a timely solution to Malawi’s marketing problems of agricultural produce. The preference for women is especially commendable.

    1. Thanks Edgar. I cant agree with you less. Indeed Cooperatives are one of the best way to advance agri business in Malawi

  2. Its high time malawian farmers move from the agri- culture to Agri-business to benefit fom farming and cooperatives are an essential to achieve this. Mercilina will deliver.

  3. Farmer cooperatives is one single community development approach that has the potential not only to change individual livelihood, but also a nation’s economy. This is more effective when the main focus is capacity building. Bravo Mercilina

    1. That’s exactly my point David. Capacity building is one of the most effective way in rural development initiatives.

  4. Mercilina I like your project, this is the Vision Ministry of industry and trade through cooperative division wants to do. However it is failing to do a lot due to Funding. Your proposal will help us as well. G!o Go! Go!

    1. This is indeed all about contributing to the bigger vision of Ministry of Industry and trade (cooperative division) and I believe it is achievable/possible

  5. That’s the way to go Mercilina. Malawi’s and many other LDCs’ agricultural marketing challenges can be a thing of the past with vibrant collective activity in our rural areas and in that, capacity building of the rural masses is of paramount importance. Bravo and all the best!

      1. Just an additional one, which cooperatives are you targeting? Are you crop specific in your targeting or you will consider several cooperatives growing different crops?

  6. Mercelina is a self motivated and result oriented young lady whom i have worked with. MSMEs have an important in as far as livelihood improvement is concerned for smallholder farmers in Malawi through the linkages made to them with other value chain players. With current challenge Malawi is facing including employment among the youth and climate change, the proposed project will hopefuly improve the competitiveness of such FBOs (cooperatives)

  7. I totally agree with the notion of moving from mere agricultural practices to making it more of a business than just a planting,harvesting, eating or minimal selling of raw materials activity.

  8. i believe its high time people benefit and eat from their own effort,,and i believe the cooperatives are a solution to many suffering farmers who dont see the benefit of farming when thier is little to earn and mercilina this is what we been waiting for,,the time is now for farmers to celebrate.

  9. I’m a business development service provider and Mercilina almost the key issues. I’m in support of her application and will be willing to offer support where needed to Mercilina

  10. There is a saying that in unity there is power. But not any other unison has power. Rather an organized, well coordinated and trained Union has the power. Malawian farmers need such unison and cooperatives are a the way to go. This project will go a long way in getting the farmers organized, well coordinated and capacitated to achieve more and gain more than doing it alone. Bravo! Let’s uplift the local farmers in Malawi through this project!

    1. You have just nailed it Julius. We need to empower these local farmers. This project is about giving Strength to such organised groups

  11. Developing sustainable business models in cooperatives is the way to go. Its a good initiative…

  12. Great Proposal Mercilina, the rural farmer has great potential to grow from small scale farming to making it big but lack of knowledge and access to credit facilities hinders this growth.

  13. Mercilina, this is a very important topic to tackle which also promises a transformation of farming towards some kind of serious business! My single input to the strategy is to take a broader holistic approach! Knowledge (skills) is just one element and despite many farmers trained on cooperatives management, very few farmer groups have grown to behave as coops! Facing the marketing challenges Head on, issues of policy (the cooperatives policy is more biased to financial cooperatives and not agric making agri cooperatives subjected to irrelevant certification procesures with the ministry of trade! Is it possible to enhance partnerships so that all important actors in the agric value chain talk to each other from the start? When they gain new skills the environmental context also needs to be supportive!

    1. Thank you very much for the constructive input Hastings. Actually you are right; cooperative development here in Malawi needs that holistic approach. cooperative policy and legal framework is one of the factors that is hindering performance of these coops in Malawi. I would gladly like to share with you my Msc thesis paper which clearly highlights these issues with a number of recommendations one of it being;”The government through ministry of trade cooperative development department should re examine, review and amend the cooperative development policy and make changes in view of that to the cooperative law to make it more applicable and appropriate to the existing cooperative circumstances in the country”.
      Actually the holistic approach needs to focus on both Internal and External factors that contribute to the success and sustainability of a cooperative, for example internal factors would focus on organization and management, business structure capacity while on external we would focus on policy & legal framework and the market system. These are important.
      I would take into consideration your thoughts on this approach. Thanks

  14. It begins with Marcellina!!! With your dedication this can really help in family, community and even nation wide. Malawians rely on handouts which barely last but teaching them to be independent is the way to go sis!!! Love the proposal and the ideas almost changed career here from health sector.

  15. Thank you Ann for the encouragement. Change career my sister; Agriculture sectors needs you. However don’t worry if we do our job well in the Agri sector then we will lessen your duties in the health sector you know.

  16. Wow!!! this is really wonderful Mercilina. We need well organised marketing cooperatives in this country if our economy is really to revived. And the only way to achieve this is to ensure that our farmers are equipped with sound business ideas like you doing. keep it up. great job

  17. I have worked with a number of cooperatives specifically on agriculture value chains. Cooperatives have a great potential in sustainability of projects especially when they are well equipped, focused and have well established structures. I believe this initiative will help to strengthen the existing cooperatives in Malawi and improve the livelihoods of the rural masses. Kudos Mercillina!!!!!

    1. I agree that Cooperative have a great potential Faith. Any ideas on how to sustain them apart from capacity building?? I would love your inputs, since I know you have been working with them

      1. I think we should encourage inclusive business model which looks into the whole value chain of the product. In this case you will have to focus from production, processing, marketing. we need to empower all these areas.

  18. This is a great idea Sister, Malawi needs to be developed through farming in order to grow. We have farmers but the don’t have good skills, resources and finances to reach their goals, they luck people like you who can help them, and such cooperatives are the way to achieve this. Go on Sister we are proud of you.

  19. Our Malawian farmers need capacity building and access to the market and that the only way they can move out of this poverty trap. Information is power and thats what our rural farmers need. lets build their capacity and let them know farming is business.#######

    1. capacity building of our rural farmers can change their poverty fate. I am convinced that we can turn things up. it starts with us

  20. l work in areas where Mercillina has worked. She revamped many cooperatives in Mzimba, Nkhatabay and Kasungu. Without doubts given this grants, she will bring a better and sustainable change in many smallholder farmers through this cooperative development. Bravo Mercillina continue what you started in Mzimba.

    1. Thank you Alfred. This is my passion. Changing lives through doing what I know best. Agribusiness is my passion. we need change that is sustainable

  21. If we talk of sustainable development, then capacity building is the way to go. Building capacity of cooperatives will empower the smallholder farmers and will give them confidence in doing farming as a business. l have seen how skills and knowledge you imparted to some cooperatives in Mzimba and Kasungu has benefitted many farmers. l believe with this grant many farmers will benefit and improve their livelihoods. Bravo Merci! Do it!

    1. Sustainable outcomes are what we want in every project. we want impacts that will sustain even after the project. we need peoples lives to be changed forever not just a short lived success story. Capacity building is just one way to fulfil sustainable development

  22. Great work Mercillina. Just to mention that I have worked with a number of development practitioners, one of the observed essential gaps that lessen the meaning of effort and lenders project sustainability weak is incomplete business models. Your project craft sounds very good but i’d advise that you keep an eye on every facet of it. You may focus on trade facilitated demand driven production which is a missing ingredient in most business oriented projects.

    1. I agree with you Taz. I will take into account your input. I have indeed witnessed thriving cooperatives with all the skills they have but still failing to progress; the reason being they were not demand driven in the very first place. they were formed out of wanting to just meet a project target and at the end there was no demand to absorb their production. This is frustrating to the rural farmers we are trying to promote. I will make sure my business model should be inclusive and take into consideration what makes the whole value chain work. Thanks

  23. wow Mercilina this is nice impressive i remember going into surveys during data correction. it helped see how much these people can benefit from working together as a cooperative than a single framer. together we could do more

    1. I expect to reach out to 2500 farmers as direct beneficiaries on the community mobilization and at least 1000 farmers on re orientation. However I expect ripple effect through training of trainers (Agriculture Officers) which can go about reaching 5000 farmers according to their respective area development.

  24. Mercilina, I would suggest that you work with government extension officers and already existing structure to ensure maximum impact on the farmers and sustainability of the project. Additionally, you would mentor some community members/farmers to become Agribusiness Community Agents (ACAs). These agents would eventually become service providers to their communities in the areas of agribusiness, training farmers better agronomics, marketing and generally assist in the capacity building local farmers using minimal available resources.

    1. Mphatso, am in love with the ACAs concept. This concept can go a long way to provide the communities with much valuable agribusiness services. I would like to get further advice from you (for the sake of Mercilina and of cause for the sake of us all), how would these ACAs be empowered to be up to date with market information since experience has it that most of our smallholder farmers fail to reap their relevant benefit due to market information asymmetry.

      1. Thanks Lovemore, The ACAs will need to be trained as agribusiness service providers which should include marketing concept. And with that knowledge, they should be able to develop a good marketing information system. Lovemore, these ACAs should also be able to collect and disseminate market information to fellow farmers in the cooperative to make markets work better for them. They will therefore, be required to work with different stakeholders among others government extension staff, NGOs, Buyers of agricultural produce to ensure that the system works better for them.

  25. excellent suggestions Mpha. I really do appreciate your input. I like the idea of ACAs. I think its more related to lead farmers approach and i will be happy to imply that. And also as an exit strategy, working with government extension officers helps to sustain the project when its life span is over. I value these comments so much and i will definitely find a way of incorporating them once this project has been chosen.

  26. Lovemore, in answer to your question; I will consider a number of cooperatives with different crops taking into consideration that each cooperative have its own strength and weakness points. so to others the type of crop might be their strength, to others leadership and so forth. This can also provide a basis or platform for learning and sharing their experiences

  27. Faith, I will take into consideration addressing important points in the whole value chain when training these coops. I will make sure to apply the inclusive business model approach to implementing this project

    1. That will be very good. Please send me your email address so that i should send you some important documents related to agricultural cooperatives. I hope they will be very helpful to your work. Wishing you all the best

  28. Cooperatives have have positive impacts since post independence error but the issue has always been sustainability from lack of farmer independence beyond outside support, the initiative of building capacity through training is very good Mercilina. Malawi farmers need more independence along the whole value chain. I highly recommend this project as an agricultural policy advisor. Please emphasize on value addition and marketing skills since these are the biggest challenge currently hindering profitability of agricultural commodities here in Malawi .

    1. Value addition is indeed a way to go Sara. Thanks for your support and valuable input. I will make sure to include as one component during trainings.

    2. The challenge with value addition among farmers is lack of skills to utilise the available resources. As a result, they incur more costs (comparing to large processor). the projects should provide skills on best practices (least cost combinations) for value addition so that the cost of value addition should not make the farmers charge exorbitant prices on the consumer market.

  29. Great vision and ambition Mercillina. For the the past 12 years I have known Mercillina as self motivated, industrious, result oriented individual. She has made such tremendous strides in her career as a leader and also a profession with a strong technical understanding of her field. I am always confident that she will make a great contribution to the communities and Malawi as a goal. Go Mercillina, we are behind you

  30. Wow! Wow! I have always been inspired by your visionary thinking Mercillina. Keep it up girl, I know you will make such a tremendous change among Malawian farmers

    1. Louis by 6 months this project will be able to show output which will carry its effects to show the outcomes by the end of 12 months.

  31. Kudos Mercillina!!! Just a few days ago was discussing with someone on the strengths of cooperatives and how lives of most rural people would be transformed if they understood well the concept of a cooperative. It’s not just about farming together, it’s about sharing a vision and understanding their individual purpose and the purpose of them as a group. Once you get farmers to discover and understand their purpose then have a good vision, I tell you, Malawi will be singing and dancing to a different tune!!! This is genius my sister, let’s share notes

    1. I will gadly share the notes . Vitushka. I am happy that we have a number of people who still embrace the concept of empowering cooperatives. This is one way we can achieve poverty alleviation for rural people

  32. Mercilinah’s passion and desire to see change in the local communities she has contact with is very evident. This piece exemplifies it all. I am very convinced that all things being equal and given the required resources this project will be a great success. I am very sure Mercilinah will do all she can to see it come to fruition. Wish you all the best!

  33. That’s a way to go Mercellina. Lack of knowledge and skills is one of the major constrains being faced by small-scale agribusinesses who are the major contributors of economic growth.

    1. in this project I assume that during community mobilization a lot of farmers will be aware of the benefits and advantages of cooperatives hence they will be motivated to form such farmer organizations. it also assumes that trainers of trainers will replicate the skills and knowledge learnt to the farmers they serve. and finally the project assumes that farmers who will be re oriented will improve their businesses and cooperative performance. Still more a number of risks are anticipated; training farmers is one thing but the use and implementation of the knowledge that they will have learnt is also another, I can only hope that the intervention will be implemented; however I will be monitors cooperative progress and also mentor the trainer of trainers on how to continue coaching the farmers for a positive impact.

  34. This is a very good concept. Our farmers are being exploited because of lack of collective voice. Strengthened cooperatives realize higher returns than weak ones.
    Most of the farmer organizations lack good governance for their effective and efficient running of businesses. Basically, the orientation of farmer organizations attributes to this challenge. In your project ensure proper measures are put in place to ensure sustainability of good governance

    1. Thank you Abigail. Organising farmers helps coordination and take advantage on economies of scale when it comes to marketing and price bargaining which in turn helps them realize higher returns. I will monitor progress and changes in their business operations and governance after the trainings for sustainability.

  35. One of the challenges with cooperative development has been sustainability. Most cooperatives have been project based and tend to die natural death after the phasing out of projects. in many cases, this is attributed to poor orientation of cooperative development and management. most projects do not give a full business package when establishing cooperatives.

    In this regard, I would suggest that your training (capacity building) materials provide full package of business development and management. so that farmers understand that cooperatives are business oriented groupings not just social gathering.

    1. Thank you for your input Abigail. My execution plan is to deliver the full package indeed. this will take into consideration production, processing and marketing -both demand and supply side. apart from that I will look into leadership and governance issues and also together with the farmers we will look into external factors that hinders cooperative growth and success and come up with the right strategies to overcome them. the policy environment will not be left aside as well

  36. Thank you Mphatso for your contribution on the ACA concept. This is giving me an insight and knowledge oh how I can improve on this project sustainability.

  37. This is brilliant Mercilina!!! Cooperatives have the potential to foster economic growth in Malawi.Its time we push capacity building of the rural farmers in this area forward.A good fit for Malawi and highly feasible. Bravo!!!!

  38. This is brilliant Mercilina!!! Cooperatives have the potential to foster economic growth in Malawi.Its time we push capacity building of the rural farmer in this area forward. A good fit for Malawi and highly feasible. Bravo!!!!

  39. This is brilliant Mercilina!!! Cooperatives have the potential to foster economic growth in Malawi. It’s time we push capacity building of the rural farmer in this area forward. A good fit for Malawi and highly feasible. Bravo!!!

  40. This is brilliant Mercilina. Cooperatives have the potential to foster economic growth in Malawi.Its time we push capacity building of the rural farmer in this area forward. A good fit for Malawi and highly feasible. Bravo!!!

    1. For effective delivery/implementation and monitoring I will be covering the communities which I am already working. In this case we are talking of Zomba district

    1. This is a very important point Babettie. The project will make sure to balance the number of women and men that are going to be trained, however the main focus is going to be the number of women in leadership and decision making position and segregation of duties. The project will also make sure that women roles are well understood and accepted and intertwined during delivery of cooperative activities.

      1. On gender remember it’s not about numbers but output. Make sure the women that will take the decision making positions be able to drive the cooperatives not just filling the posts

  41. Mercilina as much as you would be mainstreaming gender, please remember to involve youth in the targeted areas as well. the youth make a great resource for the development of every nation.

    1. That’s a very good point Mphatso. I will take that as an important area of focus during implementation. empowering youth is empowering the nation through the future generation

  42. Most Malawian survive through farming but for their own consumption this is exactly what we need in Malawi, A change of mindset on local farmers to make farming a bussing will help not only them(local farmers) but also Malawi as a nation

  43. This is the a very nice project. This is the way to go, lets promote agribusiness . I like the project

  44. Way to go especially focusing on youth and vulnerable girls. And building development skills will be more sustainable

  45. Thanks Mercilina, However in modern world we cannot go without mentioning the use of ICTs in agriculture. ICTs are facilitating access to information on economic trends in terms of prices and demands for particular farm product, access to information on potential buyers and it accelerates agricultural development by facilitating knowledge management. Many cooperatives have failed in Malawi mainly because of lack of information sharing. Do you plan to sensitise these our dearly rural farmers on the role of ICTs in agriculture development?

    1. I did not thought of that area Mphatso, However you have helped me to see that gap. You know that lack of market information has really failed our farmers and its one of the important factor if a business is to succeed. Thank you Mphatso. you have been helpful the entire processes of voting. your valuable comments are not taken for granted.

  46. That’s the way to go. the collective marketing can really help our farmers get adequately compasated for their sweat in farming by getting better prices for their produce through increased bargaining power in cooperatives. Wishing you all the best Mercilina

  47. On gender I will remember that Babette. you have been so helpful in this, I honestly appreciate your input.

  48. I like that you are motivated and doing what is best for your community.
    Herein are my two comments.
    Firstly, for there to be an agricultural cooperative there is need to accumulate agricultural produce. Keeping in mind where you work I take it you will advocate for cassava. My point is, will you reach as far as training on crop production, storage and value adding?
    Secondly, I have had an experience with such a project and I would say the most measurable aspect in this equation is the cooperative itself. Will you get to the point where new entities will be created?
    All in all I advocate on an expansion of said scope or a follow up project to encompass the parameters highlighted.

  49. Wow this is great. I like the idea that you want to improve the lives of people in your community through the capacity building. As they say knowledge is power and their is power in unity. Hopefully you are also considering other communities in the future so that the whole nation is impacted and changing the lives of farmers for better.

  50. way to go Mercilina. We need such ideas for us Malawians to progress. Equipping the farmers with such knowledge and skills is a very good idea.

  51. Hie guys..am Rehoboth J.b Dawa..am currently studying ABM with Luanar,year three..am so excited to read what you have been posting on this page..its really helpful..I have just started drafting my proposal..and my title is much related with the discussion above..am assessing governance of agricultural cooperatives..a number of studies have been done to look at the components o f transparency, accountability, gender equity, participation and observation of roles..there my main focus is to assess if all these components are being applied in our Malawi set up..and if not what can be done..my plea is if you have any suggestion that can help enrich my study,that will highly he appreciated..thanks..God bless

    1. Hello Rehoboth. am glad you have an interest working on agricultural cooperative. what’s the title of your proposal. write me through my email address linahlwanda@gmail.com I might have some helpful information since I also did a research on “assessing business performance of agriculture cooperatives”

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