FES is a principal player in the current commercial agricultural sector and recognises the untapped potential of the smallholder sector. We have created our Emerging Farmer Department (EFD) to specifically target and manage clients in this area.
FES EFD offers services to smallholder farmers and smallholder organisations under three main pillars: agronomy, irrigation and mechanisation. We ensure equipment and service provision is adapted and tailored to the specific needs of smallholder farmers in Malawi.
HOW CAN WE HELP?
The EFD offers a comprehensive range of products and services to smallholder farmers. We will also provide all the necessary supporting activities, from feasibility and design studies through to servicing and maintenance. FES is in a position to deliver the following:
There is no one-size-fits-all solution when understanding smallholder farmers in Malawi. These farmers operate on a range of scales with differing skill sets and abilities. In general, the type of smallholder whom FES wishes to engage with is what we are terming an ‘emerging farmer’: a semi-commercial, non-subsistent smallholder farmer. They should be farming for cash purposes and produce crops on land no smaller than one hectare.
It is expected the formalised and high-value sectors of tea, coffee, sugar, macadamia and tobacco will be the primary targets of the EFD. This is followed by sectors such as maize, rice, groundnuts, chillies and paprika which are increasingly formalised; are attracting companies that plan to develop out-growing schemes; and those which generate sufficient revenue to enable a smallholder farmer to purchase the products and services offered by FES. In terms of tobacco, FES understands the strategic move to facilitate the diversification of smallholder farmers towards alternative income streams. We believe the optimal use of innovative agricultural technologies and services is imperative to ensure this transition away from tobacco is feasible and will be beneficial for the smallholder farmer.
In 2018, FES - in partnership with Meridian AGORA - undertook a pilot smallholder mechanisation scheme in the Southern Region. A lease-to-hire model was piloted to smallholder farmers to understand the real-world economics and feasibility of providing a mechanisation service to an informal but aggregated group of semi-commercial smallholder farmers. Through this pilot scheme, FES has been able to define distinct models of engagement and to refine the parameters of such models. Smallholder access to mechanisation is a relatively untested area of developmental support in Malawi but it is growing in demand thanks to the increased cost of manual labour and the emergence of smallholder farmers who are operating on a far more commercial basis than before and who have a willingness to invest in their crop production to attain improved profit margins.
FES has invested in a high-tech agricultural laboratory - AgriLab - at its head office in Blantyre. The laboratory has the capacity to undertake a comprehensive range of soil, water and leaf analyses to an extremely high level of accuracy. The purpose of the soil testing and analysis for smallholder farmers is three-fold:
Aside from soil testing, the agricultural laboratory offers the analysis of plant material for quality parameters, such as pesticides and aflatoxins. FES will disseminate the results from agricultural testing via a mobile app and is in a position to offer technical support to smallholder organisations to assist in the uptake of specific recommendations.