Hot houses and cool work set to reduce harvest loss in Malawi

By Practical Action On 07.07.2021 FarmingFood & agriculturePractical Action Consulting

Hundreds of women are expected to generate more than Euro 500,000 of economic activity via a new business model for Malawian farmers. 

Practical Action Consulting’s new Renewable Energy for Agriculture project will work with two private-sector companies to address a series of problems plaguing the farming sector in the southern African country over the next five years. 

The challenges faced by Malawian farmers 

Lack of refrigeration and access to markets mean that Malawian farmers suffer an average of 30 per cent post-harvest loss of their produce, and up to 50 per cent for softer crops such as tomatoes. Climate change is also causing erratic rainfall and unreliable yields and, combined with a lack of access to reliable markets, means many small farmers cannot secure reliable income. Women farmers face additional barriers, including limited access to land and finance and a lack of time for earning money caused by family care responsibilities.  

A sustainable solution 

To overcome some of these issues, social enterprise Modern Farming Technologies and renewable energy developer African Mini Grids, will work with Practical Action Consulting 

These partners will use their expertise in solar energy and access to wholesale food markets to give the project the best possible chance of success Women farmers will learn how to grow produce in poly-tunnels using solar drip irrigation. 

The new farming business model will: 

  • Introduce a ‘rent-to-own’ scheme allowing farmers to own the greenhouses
  • Strengthen a cooperative to sell produce to buyers at a standard, reliable price. 
  • Work with Modern Farming Technologies’ chill plant to store and maintain product quality.  
  • Sell to a number of different buyers to reduce risk and single buyer monopolies.  
  • Re-invest profits into new greenhouses to allow farmers to expand their businesses or to enable new women farmers to enter the scheme.  

Innovating together to achieve big change 

John Chettleborough, Agriculture and Markets Lead for Practical Action Consulting is leading the work. He said: “One of the most important outcomes of this work will be to increase our understanding of business models and renewable energy in the agriculture sector.  

Malawian farmer Glory is looking forward to increasing her yields by using greenhouses

“Crucially, we will make all learning on these topics free and available to all so that stakeholders operating in this sector will have additional resources and knowledge.  

“We believe we could enable Modern Farming Technologies to grow into a substantial social business, helping a significant number of women to benefit economically and socially and providing benefits to the wider community.  

“We have developed a long-term business model, based on discussions with wholesale buyers and our partners’ experience of working with women farmers. 

“If our business model is successful, this scheme could transform the local economy both for the farmers and through a raft of other economic benefits for suppliers, buyers and transporters.” 

Atusaye Kayuni, Modern Farming Technologies Director, said: “We are delighted to work in partnership with Practical Action on a project which builds on our development activity of the last three years. The combination of greenhouse farming, solar powered irrigation and access to a cold chain adds up to a powerful project, through which we aim to demonstrate that this approach can be taken to scale and empower many women in Northern Malawi and beyond.”    

Joanna Gentili, from African Mini Grids added: “This project is an incredible opportunity to help create food security and employment for people in Northern Malawi. AMG has spent months on research and development to create one of the most energy efficient, solar powered refrigerated containers on the market. We are excited to take this innovation to the field.” 

The project so far

Work began on June 2021. Practical Action has secured 50of the funding for this project from the Powering Renewable Energy Opportunities Fund (PREO), financed by  UK Aid and The IKEA Foundation.  PREO seeks stimulate renewable energy demand in rural Africa to boost long-term jobs and reduce poverty through economic growth and empowerment of women. See the PREO website for more information: www.preo.org.   

Anyone interested in partnering and offering further financial support should contact Lucy Tyack at via email at lucy.tyack@practicalaction.org.uk