It’s been almost a year since the 'Our Malawi Partnership' launched, so we thought it would be the perfect time to catch up with the initiative’s Project Manager in Malawi, Jeruzye Munthali, to find out how things are progressing.

Jeruzye Munthali – Project Manager for Malawi Federation of Co-operatives (MAFECO)

Jeruzye, known as Jeru, isn’t new to the world of co-operation or smallholder farming. With over 12 years’ experience of project management in areas of financial inclusion, rural development, and agri-entrepreneurship within the co-operative sector, he was the perfect choice to help manage the day-to-day running of the 'Our Malawi Partnership'.

Jeru is passionate about empowering people and assisting communities to devise ways they can address their common challenges, and he told us:

As someone who believes in self-help and self-responsibility, the co-operative principles and values were my greatest motivation in wanting to working within the movement.

What does the role involve?

With a project as ambitious and wide-reaching as this, no two days are the same! From managing people and resources, communicating with stakeholders (such as co-operative unions, team members and colleagues here in the UK), and ensuring compliance and quality standards – Jeru is kept busy!

With his keen understanding of co-operatives and his hands-on experience of working with smallholder farmers, Jeru was also involved in the planning of the project, defining the scope, timelines, and budget.

The 'Our Malawi Partnership' works with smallholder farmers from four different agricultural sectors – tea, coffee, nuts and rice, and each sector comes with its own challenges. Jeru told us:

MAFECO is a multi-sectorial co-operative body, and working here, it is vital to acquire different skills, multi-task and collaborate. I always encourage my colleagues to learn by doing.

Improving the livelihood of smallholder farmers

We asked Jeru about some of the challenges the 'Our Malawi Partnership' aims to help smallholder farmers combat, to improve livelihoods. Through increased access to inclusive economic opportunities, sustainable agricultural practices, international co-op markets and solidarity networks, the partnership will address:

Vulnerability to weather shocks due to climate change

Climate change has impacted negatively on agriculture in Malawi, and almost every year the country experiences weather shocks including seasonal droughts, intense rainfall, and flash floods. While insurance companies have tried to develop weather related products for farmers to insure their produce, adoption of these products is extremely low.

Poor planning and low access to finance

Most smallholder farms are dependent on subsistence farming, which means that crops are planted, harvested, and sold based on the farmer’s immediate need for food and funds for their family and community. This lack of planning for each farming season means that many lending institutions in Malawi consider agriculture financing as high risk, and as such they tie prohibitive conditions to their loans.

Low adoption of sustainable agricultural techniques and collective marketing

High illiteracy levels, a tendency to stick to traditional approaches to farming, and a resistance to change are just some of the factors that hamper the adoption of more sustainable and profitable approaches.

The 'Our Malawi Partnership', utilising the College’s distinctive learning approach, aims to facilitate the sharing of co-operative knowledge and best practice between farmers and across co-operatives to help combat these issues.

Looking to the future

With training sessions in the production and use of organic fertiliser being held, new networks of smallholder farmers being created, and several types of Malawi produced food items being sold in Central Co-op stores in the UK, the partnership is already making substantial progress. We asked Jeru for his thoughts on what excites him most about the future of 'Our Malawi Partnership':

It’s the potential to make a positive impact. It will have a significant impact on the environment, economy, and society, and most importantly, the quality of life for farmers and their communities will improve.

Read our article on the launch of 'Our Malawi Partnership'.

Find out more about Central Co-op and 'Our Malawi Partnership'.