Kings and Florence Mwambene are rice farmers to watch in Fundi Village in Karonga District, where rice yields keep falling due to climate change.

In June last year, the couple sold eight tonnes of kilombero rice to Kaporo South Farmers’ Association, which supplies the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (Nasfam) for value addition.

Sitting in their homestead where cattle mew all day, they touted the reliable market held in their backyard as a major motivation and game-changer.

Workers haul raw rice to the mill

“I started growing rice when I was 15, but almost quit when Admarc [the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation] stopped buying our produce. This gave way to unscrupulous buyers who manipulate measuring instruments. Farmers cannot prosper when prices are dictated by buyers,” he looks back.

In 2001, Mwambene joined the association affiliated to Nasfam to benefit from collective bargaining for farm inputs, extension services, markets and decent prices.

“Nasfam offers us a reliable market,” he says. “When they come to Miyombo Market Centre, they bring cash and offer good prices. We get paid the same day so we can buy what we want while vendors keep us waiting for payments or exchange our rice with buckets, plates and other things we could ably buy if only they allowed us to name the price for our commodity.”

The Mwambenes stopped selling to mobile vendors from Karonga and neighbouring Tanzania when they were tricked to sell 20 kilogramme (kg) for a price of 15kg.

“Vendors do not only impose prices but also use buckets that take more rice than they pay for. These days, they dictate the buying price before harvesting knowing most farmers run out of food during the growing season,” says Florence.

The couple trusts Nasfam markets as “more rewarding”.

“The market is transparent and eliminates suspicion. The buyers use scales inspected by the Malawi Bureau of Standards and we all keep our eyes fixed on the quantities up for sale,” he says.

The mutual trust and predictable prices motivate farmers like the Mwambenes.

“When I go farming, I need to know the prices to expect. If the prices are unpredictable, farmers are prone lose their revenue to suspicious buyers,” he says.

Having sold six tonnes last growing season, Mwambene has bought four massive bulls at K500 000 each to plough his four-hectare rice field.

He is also building three houses at Karonga Town.

Pointing to red bricks for the housing project, he says: “I expect the tenants to pay no less than K40 000 a month for each house when they are complete.”

The lead farmer has since spent K700 000 to acquire fertile alluvial farmland, extending his field by a hectare for more productivity.

He yields more by planting certified seed—a seedling per station in rows.

He paid K150 000 from the rice revenue for his child who learns at Chisasu Private Secondary School in Chitipa and K15 000 for another at Ngerenge Community Day Secondary School.

The couple also grows maize, bananas and cassava.

“However, rice is the most profitable. Without it, we wouldn’t have built and electrified our house or owned the cows that have freed us from using hand hoes,” the woman says.

She sold two tonnes to Nasfam at K275 per kilogramme because she used recycled seed.

“Since I didn’t use certified seed, I got grain of different sizes and grades, which earns less,” she says.

Ray Manda, Rice Mill Operator for Karonga Smallholder Farmers Association (Kasfa), credits the system of rice intensification and affordable quality seed with producing high quantities of quality rice.

The factory and warehouses at Ipyana receive and sundries truckloads of raw rice before milling it. Trucks haul stacks of both white and brown rice to

Nasfam Commercial in Lilongwe, which polishes and packages it for sale nationwide.

“Turning raw rice to the value-added product farmers buy in shops, we are keeping farmers and workers across the production chain in business,” says Manda.

The state-of-the-art factory mills eight to 10 tonnes per hour, up from just 1.5 tonnes by its predecessor.

“It is so efficient that we process more rice per day and meet Nasfam’s demand. The previous machine was slow. When we retired it, it was producing three tonnes in eight hours,” explains the factory manager.

And the quality has improved too.

Manda elaborates: “Currently, 97 percent is long grain and three percent broken. Quality grain means more money for the farmers to improve their livelihoods and satisfaction for our valued customers.

“We no longer rerun the machine to get brown rice, but just change the switch.

The machine produces 60 tonnes using the electricity once spent on 30 tonnes. So, we no longer waste energy.”

As the hissing mill splits husks from aromatic kilombero, the farmers are assured of a win-win market for their produce.

Says Mwambene: “Nasfam does not only give us affordable quality seed and extension services that help us yield more, but also tarpaulins for drying the rice ready for the trusted market which pays better.

“Vendors that roam rice-growing areas during harvesting only make farmers poorer.”

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