Facilitating co-operative growth in Malawi

On 2 July 2022 we celebrated the launch of the Malawi Partnership, a unique initiative created by Central England Co-operative Society (CEC) and supported by the Co-operative College and the Malawi Federation of Co-operatives (MAFECO).

The Malawi Partnership aims to improve the livelihoods of co-operative small holder farmers through increased access to inclusive economic opportunities, sustainable agricultural practices, international co-op markets and solidarity networks. The College and MAFECO are the ‘on the ground’ partners, helping to create and consolidate co-operative networks. The College will also use our distinctive learning approach to facilitate the sharing of co-operative values, knowledge, and best practice between farmers and across co-operatives. Here in the UK, CEC will be selling a range of products linked to Malawi and a proportion of the sales from these products help fund the Malawi Partnership. 

Malawi, in South-East Africa is one of the world’s poorest counties, with over 70% of the population living below the national poverty line. Agriculture is central to their economy with around 97% of people, mostly women, employed in the industry.  

Most farmers are small-holders and are dependent on subsistence farming to make a living. With crops being vulnerable to changing weather conditions, a lack of social protection and representation, and low incomes – farming in Malawi is not an easy life. However, the spirit of the people, and their desire to embrace co-operation provides real opportunity to strengthen their trading capability. 

Coffee farmer in Malawi

The impact of combined local and global co-operation 

The Malawi Partnership embodies the spirit of co-operation on all levels. Locally in Malawi, small-hold farmers, co-operatives, and co-operative unions will work together to help raise communities out of poverty and create more sustainable agricultural practices. Here in the UK, CEC will work with the College and other co-operative enterprises to engage the UK public with this exciting new international co-operative development initiative. And on a global scale, there is the potential for all involved to learn and grow through the sharing of knowledge and experience of working with co-operatives in the global south.  

Work on the ground 

In April 2022, our Head of International Partnerships, Dr Sarah Alldred, visited Malawi and met with representatives from MAFECO, co-operative unions, and some of the small-holder farmers who produce the tea, coffee, nut and rice crops which are the focus of the Malawi Partnership. Sarah explained:

I've always felt extremely welcome in Malawi and the people I've met have been keen to share their stories and hopes for the future. The small-holder farmers I spoke with are all at different stages of their co-operative journey. Some are just now joining a co-operative and others have worked with MAFECO for years, but all of them are enthusiastic about the benefits that co-operative working can bring to them, their families, and their wider communities.

The Malawi Partnership is a fantastic working example of Principle Six – Co-operation Among Co-operatives. It facilitates the sharing of knowledge and resources which will result in more sustainable, climate resilient, agricultural practices; a strengthened co-operative movement both in Malawi and globally; and most importantly it will allow small-holder farmers to improve their livelihoods for generations to come.

Mzuzu Coffee sign Malawi

As the Malawi Partnership continues, we’ll provide updates on the work the College is doing, and share stories from the farmers, co-operative unions and others working on the ground. 

Read our interview with Jeru Munthali, Project Manager at MAFECO 

One year into the project, read Dr Sarah Alldred's day-by-day diary of her April 2023 visit back to Malawi

Thanks to Central England Co-operative Society for funding the Malawi Partnership. Find out more about the Malawi Partnership