Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Can peanut farmers crack global poverty?

Written by

Groundnut stripper

To Americans, peanuts are a simple food—a snack staple in ballparks and backpacks alike. But for millions of farmers in Malawi, this humble legume may offer a path out of poverty. 

One of the most nutritious foods on the planet, peanuts are rich in protein and healthy fats. They’re also a valuable crop that grows well in Malawi’s hot, dry climate.

Malawi’s small farmers are responsible for 93 percent of the country’s peanut production. But they’re not profiting. Women harvest and process their nuts by hand—work that is exhausting and time-consuming. And when farmers try to sell their harvest, they’re often taken advantage of by vendors who buy low and sell high. So while the farmers are doing the hard work, vendors are getting the profits.

New technologies are changing the game for Malawi’s peanut farmers.

CTI has developed a suite of tools to help farmers harvest and process more peanuts, faster. The tools were designed with input from hundreds of small farmers, who praised them for their ability to shell high-quality nuts. Farmers were confident the tools would help them grow and sell more peanuts—and often asked to buy the prototypes on the spot. Now CTI is working with local manufacturers to get farmers these tools in time for the May harvest.

We’re on a mission to make sure farmers can get their hands on the tools, sell their nuts at a fair price, and profit.

Over the next two years, we’re partnering with farmers’ organizations across Malawi—including NASFAM, the largest smallholder farmer group in the country. Farmers’ groups like NASFAM give farmers access to resources like new technologies, training, and good seed. By working in a group to sell their crops, farmers’ organizations can also help their members get better prices at market.With this partnership, farmers' organizations can now offer CTI's peanut tools to their members—giving farmers the support they need to reap the full benefits of their labor.

CTI Executive Director Alexandra Spieldoch was recently in Malawi to kick off the McKnight-supported project. While there, she met with the President of the Republic of Malawi, Peter Mutharika, to share more about our work.

President Mutharika was supportive of the program, as peanuts are a growing priority for the Malawi government. An agricultural country, Malawi has historically relied on tobacco as its top export crop. With the fall of tobacco, the government is embracing peanuts as a valuable alternative—encouraging farmers to increase their peanut production through seed subsidies and other initiatives.

But most peanut farmers aren’t thinking about export opportunities or how to solve global food insecurity. Instead, they’re wondering if this season’s harvest will be enough to eat and sell. While developing our tools, we interviewed over 200 small farmers in Malawi. They told us that access to the tools would help them increase their incomes, boost nutrition, and improve their quality of life. 97 percent of farmers said they would plant more peanuts if the nuts were easier to harvest and process. Now, we can make easier harvesting and processing a reality.