New spraying businesses growing cotton sector in Chikwawa.In Chikwawa District, southern Malawi, cotton farming is difficult work. The heat can be unbearable, harvesting is exhausting, and worst of all, pests will constantly erode yields. The challenges are so great that every last detail matters.
So when Davis Rice, Chairman of the Cotton Farmers Association of Malawi (COFAMA), heard that a new programme was working to grow spraying businesses in the district he was an excited agricultural leader and cotton farmer. What Chairman Rice’s constituency requires is greater agricultural support and infrastructure for a more successful cotton sector.
Likewise, as local Chief, Davis Rice became extremely enthusiastic when considering the initiative’s potential economic impact for his chiefdom. What Chief Rice’s people require is greater access to employment opportunities.
The initiative in question is a UK Aid supported venture which aims to grow Malawi’s cotton sector through private sector development. Implemented by the Malawian Oilseed Sector Transformation (M.O.S.T.) programme, the project has now trained and equipped 13 sprayers in the district, and will look to scale up to as many as 32 sprayers in Chikwawa, Balaka and Salima districts over the next year.
And spraying is a critical component of agricultural cotton production, particularly for smallholder farmers. However, smallholder cotton farmers have traditionally enjoyed little access to the equipment, chemicals and training required to implement regular spraying.
Why the service is required stems from a high presence of pests, such as the bollworm, which can seriously damage cotton crops and so must be regularly deterred. In fact, no less than six rounds of insecticide spraying are required every season in order to protect the delicate cotton plant. Any less and the farmer’s razor thin bottom line is in real jeopardy. In fact, due to regular spraying, Chief Rice estimates that his own cotton yields will grow by over a third in next year’s harvest.
Beyond vital support to Malawi’s cotton sector, the addition of much needed jobs is an equally beneficial perk of the project. Moreover, these jobs are not solely for men. With two women participating in the first phase of training, the promise of enhanced women’s employment is a further value. The fact that these new jobs hold great profit potential is a further, noteworthy spinoff of the project. In fact, some of the newly trained sprayers who also participate in cotton farming expect higher profits from spray businesses than from their own cotton yields.
The sprayers themselves also view the project as life altering. As a newly trained female spray business owner, Alice Ganti feels the potential of very positive change from this opportunity. ‘Before, I was just sitting at home, and had no source of income. The training was very easy, and now I am expecting at least 10 customers, and many more to come. So now I am able to sustain myself, and can be much more independent.’ The one-day training, conducted by CropLife Malawi, covers the safe and effective handling of pesticides, the nuances of cotton pesticides, and use and maintenance of spraying equipment.
Greatly assisting in the delivery of the project, Chief Rice certainly sees value in the initiative. ‘When I heard about this project I saw it as an opportunity – not just as a cotton farmer, or Chair of COFAMA, but also as a chief. It is a great prospect for this district and it’s communities. And it’s a great initiative for the cotton sector. I’ve been happy to help guide the project in my Chiefdom.’
So with significant room to grow, largely optimistic outcomes expected from the project, and support from district leaders such as Chief Rice – and Chairman Rice, the cotton spraying business in Chikwawa should mean more economic benefit for the community as a whole. And that is not just good news for cotton farmers and gins, spray business owners and the community at-large, that is good business for Malawi.