The Renewable Energy for Agriculture (RE4A), a partnership with Modern Farming Technologies (MFT), a Malawian social enterprise project, ran from May 2021 to June 2023.
It was funded by GIZ, the Powering Renewable Energy Opportunities (PREO) Fund (IKEA Foundation and UK Aid) and individual donors. The project tested a contract farming model that enabled access for women farmers to productive use energy (PUE) technologies, improved horticulture, and markets.
The project worked with 135 women farmers, members of a cooperative, who entered into a contract with MFT. They were provided with irrigation pumps and greenhouses, via a Rent to Own scheme, and trained on greenhouse tomato farming. In order to reduce post-harvest loss and maintain product quality, the produce was stored in a solar powered chilling unit – a bespoke insulated, shipping container. MFT sourced local and national buyers for the produce, including a national supermarket chain, local institutions and local informal traders.
The results so far have been impressive, despite the project only really covering the start-up period. Assuming productivity levels are maintained, the women can earn at least, 624 euros a year from 15 hours work a week, contributing over 50% of the living income for a household in the area. Through the Rent to Own scheme they will pay for the equipment in a little over 4 years. The direct effects on income and access to assets are not the only impacts seen – 71% of the women note improvements in food security and over 40% have improved practise on other farms as a result of the training. There are also very positive signs of women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Although Practical Action are no longer involved, the initiative is part of the core business of MFT and will be continued and expanded by them.
The project has provided useful learning on the following:
- The significance of informal markets and their resilience to shocks such as covid.
- The different elements that support women’s economic empowerment
- Key components of a contract farming business model
- The mutual dependence between the provision of productive use energy assets, support to agricultural production and access to agricultural markets.
- The role that grants and commercial funding can play in triggering the development of a business like this.