In March 2024, the College’s Head of International Partnerships, Dr Sarah Alldred, returned to Malawi as part of our annual monitoring for the Our Malawi Partnership, led by Central Co-operative. Here, she shares an update on her visit, and some of the recent issues that the country has been facing.

Over the past 18 months Malawi has faced a series of challenges that have impacted people’s livelihoods. These include: high Inflation with food prices increasing rapidly due to supply constraints; currency devaluation, whereby the Malawi kwacha dropped over 40% in value against the US dollar, causing price spikes for basic goods; an ongoing cholera outbreak which has resulted in over 55,000 deaths since it began in 2022; tropical cyclone Freddy which occurred in March 2023, devastating 15 districts in southern Malawi, displacing over 500,000 people and resulting in over 1,000 dead or missing. The cyclone also caused extensive damage to public infrastructure, including schools, health facilities, and roads

As one of the world’s poorest countries, Malawi also suffers from general economic vulnerability, with over half the population living in poverty and one-fifth in extreme poverty. The economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, which is susceptible to climate change and natural disasters, making economic stability a significant challenge.

With this as the backdrop, since its launch in 2022 the Our Malawi Partnership is a testament to the power of collective co-operative action in strengthening economic livelihoods to create greater resiliency against these shocks. By selling a range of products linked to Malawi, Central Co-operative not only supports local producers and farmers but also contributes to strengthening Malawi’s trading capacity, through working with the Malawi Federation of Co-operatives (MAFECO), their national co-operative apex body. From the lush tea fields to the abundant macadamia nut harvests, each product tells a story of resilience and community.

The College’s 2024 visit had three key missions – to grow and strengthen our principle six work, to underpin our commitment to Sustainable Development Goal Eight: Decent Work and Economic Growth, and to work with our partners at MAFECO to review and build upon the workplans.

United Purpose and tea co-operatives

Our journey began with a site visit to Mtendere Tea Co-operative, and the Self Help Africa team supported by United Purpose. The renewal of the community’s water borehole was a highlight, symbolizing the synergy between enhancing economic livelihoods (co-ops) and improving health (clean water). We received a fantastic welcome from the Mtendere co-op members, with a song and a drama re-enactment about sanitation practices which highlighted the power of community education. Drama huts are common features of co-operative villages, as they often use drama to talk about and highlight issues affecting their lives. The visit achieved its goal of gathering insights to feedback to Central Co-op on the United Purpose collaborations with the Our Malawi Partnership.

NRECA International and renewable energy initiatives 

Next up was a fortuitous meeting with National Rural Electric Co-operative Association (NRECA) International, which opened doors to potential partnerships in co-operative renewable energy. Sarah and the MAFECO team met in the new NRECA offices and had a lively exchange with their international and country directors, which created a great step towards aligning Central Co-op’s clean energy goals with NRECA’s rural energy co-op programme. The visit underscored the adaptability of co-op models to meet the unique needs of energy co-operatives, setting the stage for future collaborations.

British High Commission engagement 

The meeting with the British High Commission’s trade attaches, Tim Lamont and Daniel Kachale, was pivotal. It provided an opportunity to showcase the impact of the UK-led Our Malawi Partnership and the College’s educational initiatives. Discussions centred on supporting mid-sized farms and exploring value chains for mango and macadamia farming, and mining, highlighting the potential for increased productivity and sustainable trade practices. We came out of the meeting energised about the potential for co-operatives in this space.

Visit to HIMACUL 

Our visit to the Highlands Macadamia Co-operative Union Ltd (HIMACUL) was productive, with conversations focused on their key support needs for the upcoming year, ensuring readiness to meet the UK market’s demand. Macadamia is a major Malawi product in Central Co-operative, and an essential nutritious food for the Malawi diet.

Meeting with CIC Insurance Africa

The MAFECO team and Sarah were excited to visit Chris Mugwang’a, Managing Director of CIC Africa, an insurance provider.  We discussed their new micro-insurance health product targeted at rural women, recognising that women are the heartbeat of rural communities. The insurance product covers direct cash to women in the event of hospitalisation, personal accidents, maternity/childbirth and outpatient visitsThe core aim for us was to explore how MAFECO could integrate this product into the aims of the Our Malawi Partnership so to protect the health needs of women in the co-operative communities we work in.

Collaborative planning with MAFECO

Working closely with MAFECO, we delved into the results of the year-two reports, laying a strong foundation for year three activities. This collaborative planning session was crucial for integrating emerging needs and creating a schedule of co-operative learning support, enabling the College to effectively restart our innovative ‘Teach Meets’ programme.

The College’s visit to Malawi was a journey filled with moments of co-operation, learning, and mutual growth. By focusing on co-operative principle six, and the eighth Sustainable Development Goal (Decent work and economic growth), the visit served as an opportunity to build new relationship and strengthened existing bonds between co-operatives.