Emerging farmers

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.


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:

  • Feasibility and scoping studies
  • Product, service design, optimised specifications per client needs and context
  • Installation
  • Servicing and maintenance
  • Technical assistance (smallholder organisation, lead farmer, extension agent targeted training)


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.

Smallholder aggregation

FES has a two-pronged approach to developing a client base of smallholder farmers and smallholder organisations:
  • FES utilises its existing commercial relationships with agricultural producers and agro-processors who act as off-takers for smallholder farmers.
  • FES is looking to develop partnerships with development organisations and programmes operating on a long-term basis in Malawi and which run appropriate and conceptually strong agricultural development projects.

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.


The promotion of widespread access to irrigation technologies in Malawi for smallholder farmers is in its infancy. FES believes it is best positioned to provide irrigation equipment suited to smallholder needs and the associated training, installation and servicing requirements. The irrigation technologies which FES offers are innovative and highly evolved, they include:
  • Netafim drip kits – high-quality, low-volume drip irrigation specifically designed to meet the needs of smallholder farmers; it is cost-effective, has low labour requirements and addresses the challenge of uneven water and nutrient distribution.
  • Small-scale pump solutions – highly adapted to the smallholder context, affordable for individual smallholders.
  • Sprinklers – a low-cost option that can work effectively when smallholders are fragmented with challenging geography.
  • Pivot systems – a high-end, sophisticated solution that is low maintenance and extremely effective where smallholders are formalised, producing crops on aggregated land.


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:

  • It facilitates effective decision-making as to which crop diversification options are appropriate and viable for smallholder farmers ‒ and in which localities ‒ improving resilience to climatic and market shocks.
  • It gives critical information on the appropriate use of agri-inputs which delivers cost savings and gives improved yields and crop quality, resulting in improved profit margins and smallholder incomes.
  • It reduces the impact of agricultural activities on ecosystems as it optimises the intake of nutrients, thereby reducing leaching and the emission of methane and nitrous oxide; two large contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions of the agricultural sector.

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.

Want to know more about the EFD solution?