Known as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” the landlocked country of Malawi currently ranks 174th out of 182 countries according to the Human Development Index. The latest data from the U.N. Development Program’s Human Development Report indicates that 61.64 percent of Malawians live on less than US$1.25 per day and 89.3 percent live below US$2 per day. With an estimated 85 percent of the Malawian population living in rural areas and nearly 11 million people engaged in agriculture activities, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Malawian economy is dominated by agriculture.
However, as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) explains, the economic reliance on agriculture can exacerbate the effects of variable weather patterns and crop failures on spikes in food prices. While innovation and the increased use of technology can help provide alternative methods of food production and increase income in Malawi, it’s not always easy for rural farmers. David Kahan’s guide, Entrepreneurship in Farming, identifies weak infrastructure, ineffective policy, an absence of capital, and limitations on access to markets as barriers to entrepreneurship for small holder farmers.
Nevertheless, entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector, like Rachel Sibande, are still finding way to be successful. Sibande, a native Malawian, promotes the use of Short Message Service (SMS) technology, better known as text messaging, to provide information about crop prices directly to farmers’ cell phones to ensure that farmers get a fair price when selling their product.
Another project, supported by the Kawjo Foundation, called Scaling Up Adaptive Capacity of Rural Communities to Climate Change through Innovative Integrated Agriculture Aquaculture (IAA), is another example of how innovation can improve the condition of small holder farmers. As reported by the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR), in most African countries, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the labour force, over 25 percent of GDP and 20 percent of agribusiness. Yet these smallholder farmers receive only 10 percent of income and only 5 percent of technical assistance in agriculture. This sort of project is fundamental to farmers’ success in the agri-food sector.
18-year-old Gricellia, a fish farmer in rural Malawi, is involved in the IAA project and now owns her own pond. She explained to GFAR, “… [t]he benefits have given me courage, and I am convinced of getting more if I work harder with support from our officers.”
In addition, the Rural Livelihoods and Economic Enhancement Program aims to connect smallholder farmers to larger value chains in addition to improving nutrition, providing up-to-date information about market conditions to rural areas, and supporting small holder farmers as they develop their own methods of organization and production.
These entrepreneurial pursuits, according to GFAR, can empower local farmers to meet their needs and the needs of their communities by reducing food insecurity and providing additional sources of income.