15 October 2018
Breaking News

Legume production booming

Written by  Macneil Kalowekamo
Women in Kasung sorting out sugar beans Women in Kasung sorting out sugar beans

LILONGWE, July 9: The sound is increasingly becoming common across most rural areas in Malawi during post-harvest period: the gentle beating of a stick over a mound of a dry crop on the ground.

It usually comes from men, women and children threshing their harvested soybean before sorting and packing it in sacks.

Up the road from Nkhamenya Trading Centre in Kasungu, about 12 kilometres away, there are several villages in Traditional Authority Kaluluma where such an activity is currently the major task of the day.

For several weeks now, since early April this year when harvesting started, most people in the villages are threshing soybean from the ripe of the sun to dusk. Work usually starts when the moist from the dew has completely disappeared.

Soybean production - not popular among many farming households for a long time – is now a big agriculture practice, thanks to a booming market and the new wave of policy interventions to enhance the leading role of legume in food, nutrition, income security and sustainable agriculture.

“Everyone is growing a number of legume crops but soya has become the darling to many,” said Agness Phiri, a local resident and farmer in Luziwa Village in Kaluluma area.

“When the messages started coming about the potential of soya, people realized that this is the crop they have to grow.”

Phiri, 48, is now into the second season of growing the crop. Last season, she produced 23 bags of soybean from a two-hectare field. She sold some bags and raised K250, 000 and kept some for consumption in her home.

Although last year’s market prices were not that attractive, Phiri has gone on to produce the crop in the just ended 2017/18 farming season.

This time around, she has increased her land under cultivation from two hectares to three and she expects to harvest not less than 34 bags.

Phiri’s motivation for soya production is drawn from her belonging to one group of like-minded people with a primary objective of improving their livelihood through community savings and loans. The group is called Mathandani Cooperative which operates under the concept of Community Savings and Investment Promotion (Comsip).

“I get most of the capital for agriculture practices at the cooperative,” said Phiri who has so far invested close to K400, 000 in soya production. She borrowed that money from Mathandani Cooperative.

In Ntcheu, about 37 members of Mlanda Cooperative are also involved in soybean production. This year, they expect to harvest 150 bags of the crop from a combined 12.5 hectares’ piece of land.

Stella Kamphata, 50, is one of the members who is into legume production since 2015. The past two farming seasons of soya production have borne her a decent house through cumulative proceeds from selling 650 kilograms of the crop.

Much as soya epitomizes the growth of the legume sector, another crop – sugar bean – is also claiming its own stake of prominence.

In the highlands of Katuli in Mangochi, production and marketing of sugar beans dominate cross border trade between Malawi and Mozambique.

Tawina Cooperative, another group of locals into community savings and investment in agribusiness, is an active player in this economic activity.

“As a group, we produce and buy sugar beans and soya before selling it mostly to traders from Mozambique,” said Veswell Chimphepo, chairperson for the cooperative.

The group already has 150 bags of soya and 80 pails of sugar beans ready for this year’s market.

Living on top of producing, buying and selling soya and sugar beans is bringing more happiness to ambitious villagers in Katuli like Asiyatu Dickson.

Just last year, the 54-year-old Dickson produced and bought a total of 19 bags of sugar beans.

“I waited for the right moment when market prices were attractive and realized K600, 000 from sales,” said Dickson who has already built a standard house and is aspiring to buy and own a lorry.

Since 2015, soya and sugar beans production has been the focal practice of Dickson and she joins a flurry of farmers who are adopting the grain legume cropping systems.

Although figures are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence shows that the number of people in legume production is growing fast. Going around villages, piles of crops such as soya are visible in most households.

Previously, experts have bemoaned the low production of legumes that has failed to maximize on the export potential of these crops. But high supply and poor prices in last year’s market environment put that argument into question.

Surely, the prospect of market growth has emerged as the super driver for widespread adoption of legume production. But practical interventions to spur that surge deserves recognition.

Legume Enterprise and Structured Production (LESP) is one of the projects promoting the growing of legume crops among smallholder farmers.

Ran by Comsip Union, the project supports what is called legume value chains by among other things providing farm inputs such as start-up seed, inoculants, chemicals, support extension services, market identification and by itself being the first market of the cooperatives.

Tazindikira Cooperative of Ntchisi is one of the groups that has tapped into the benefits of LESP. The cooperative received support worth K700, 000 from Comsip in a matching grant principal on top of the K300, 000 group contributions for soya production.

Jessie Chikhonje is one of the members of Tazindikira Cooperative. She said the support has boosted their zeal in soya production.

“Our production has increased. With Comsip Union promising to buy the produce, we will have enough capital for long term investment in legume production,” Chikhonje said.


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