Mphatso Farm Report
This is the story of a trip to the farm that illustrates the effort it takes to achieve a level of community self-sufficiency in the face of structural barriers to development.
Mphatso Farm is owned and operated by Makupo Investment Limited a village cooperative. Below is the picture of part of the executive of Makupo Investment who had come to inspect the progress of the 7 young men of their village who had been sent to restart the process of creating a sustainable farm operation. Nellie and Doug Miller travelled with the executive to visit the farm on February 22, 2012.
Frazer Manda is a village elder and father of 2 of the young men. Grace Saka is the Treasurer, Japhet Chiwanda is Chief Makupo, and Kenny Manda is the youth and farm director and also one of the farmers.
Land in the area of Makupo is traditionally allocated and subdivided into such small plots that it is impossible to make a living off of them. This 9 hectare plot was the closest available bit of commercial land 45 kilometres southeast of Makupo and was bought by the village’s relatives in Canada to allow the young men some gainful employment in the commercial farming sector.
Part of the difficulty of developing such an enterprise is transport. Rural roads heading east or west of the M1, the main north/south highway, quickly deteriorate into logistical challenges. Even the ubiquitous minibuses don’t bother going into these areas, so a 4 wheel drive pickup was hired to carry us there.
The road looked good to begin with...
But soon the challenges appeared.
The ride was rewarded with a view of the hard work the youth had put into making the farm work. The OPSEU house built in 2009 was in good shape. They had worked very hard during May to September 2009 to make and burn the bricks and construct the house as well as clearing and planting a bumper crop of maize.
Unfortunately, the fall of the Canadian dollar that year, coupled with the inflation that constantly hammers the Malawian Kwacha and the collapse of crop prices in the 2009-10 season was compounded by the speculation on world food commodities the same year. They had been obliged to sell their crop for half the previous year’s prices. So despite a successful crop they could not cover the cost of production and the village had been unable to complete the kitchen and storerooms that had been started. In addition, a dispute with the previous landowner and the need to re-organise and re-invest prevented exploiting the farm for the 2010-11 cultivation season.
All the elements were back in place by July of 2011 to restart the farm. By then the Makupo Executive had structures in place and a cash reserve accumulated from other enterprises. They organised the youth who were willing to relocate to begin the hard work of clearing the land. The seven young men had been working since September to prepare the land and plant the crop and as the picture illustrates they had accomplished a big job. About half the land has been hand hoed and planted with soya. The village executive working with the youth as directors and advisors look forward to giving the participants a good return for their labour and provide a crop to service village needs for food and inputs for the piggery and other projects. Working as a cooperative enterprise with oversight and transparency, internal monitoring and regular feedback is important. It means the young men feel part of the enterprise and supported by their families. They will personally profit and at the same time there it will benefit the village’s collective enterprises. This and several other initiatives have even attracted back to the village people who had left out of a lack of hope.
The remaining amount of land is covered in rough scrubby bush that has to be cleared. Deforestation and the consequent impact on the water table will be dealt with by planting a double line of trees around the whole plot. These will serve several environmental objectives including preserving the soil acting as windbreaks and providing both fruit and firewood on a sustainable basis.