Fumu Nyirenda. Smallholder Farmer
Fumu is a farmer and secondary school teacher; teaching history and social development.
He grows; tobacco, cotton, sunflowers, beans and maize. His farm is over 12 hectares in size of which 7 hectares are dedicated to growing tobacco. He started growing tobacco about 11 years ago.
Based in Mpherembe, Malawi. Fumu is in his early 40’s and started small-scale farming in 1997 while at primary school. He has been operating on a more intensive basis for about 10 years.
Farming is deeply embedded in the way people do things from where he is from. His father was a farmer and grew maize, millet and reared local livestock.
He learned a lot from his father, from appropriate use of fertilizer, plant spacing and storage to a good work ethic. His Father’s imprint has been invaluable in giving him a solid foundation.
AGN: You trained to become a teacher, why did you develop a commercial farm?
FM: I did so in order to ensure I had an alternative means of earning a living and to supplement my monthly salary from teaching.
AGN: What were the hardest things you encountered when you transitioned from subsistence to commercial farming?
FM: Adequate access to capital was and is still a problem. The same is the case in terms of a lack of knowledge about suitable types of technology and world markets. Due to a lack of resources I rely on manual labour and engage up to 14 people on a contract basis to help me through the season. More resources would enable me utilize a tractor which would help me boost productivity.
I don’t have an irrigation system so I have to rely on good weather. An irrigation system would allow me to plant during the drier periods of the year effectively enabling me to plant twice a year instead of once as is currently the case.
AGN: You receive government assistance in terms of training/technical assistance. What gaps do you perceive in the support you receive and what changes would you suggest as improvements?
FM: I would like the government to offer us better prices, enable farmers have easier access to more favourable loans and provide tractors for hire.
AGN: Many countries have restricted where people can smoke which has resulted in a decrease in people smoking and a corresponding decrease in tobacco usage. Have you thought of switching to a different crop and if so what would it be and would you be able to sell directly to world markets?
FM: I am aware of this issue and grow different crops on a smaller scale compared to tobacco for now as a safeguard. I can always switch. If I had to do so I would grow beans as production costs are low and growing them is not constrained by fertilizer usage.
AGN: You mentioned extension workers provide training and you also attend training sessions provided by stakeholders. Is there a major gap in the way things are done that if plugged, would better capacitate farmers?
FM: I would like training sessions to be more regular. At present it can take over a year before any training is provided.
AGN: Is agricultural insurance something you utilize or would consider?
FM: It is no longer an option here. Some time ago a number of farmers were obtaining it until it was withdrawn because some farmers were cheating insurance companies by deliberately burning their curing houses in order to claim compensation.
AGN: What access to finance do you currently utilize?
FM: I primarily rely on my own funds although I do obtain loans for fertilizer from tobacco companies.
AGN: To what extent do you produce and review structured plans for your operations and future growth?
FM: I accept that plans are useful for running a business and can help with a number of things e.g. tracking profit and loss, scheduling and undertaking of activities in a timely manner etc. Having said that the people I know only prepare plans in order to obtain a loan. We don’t typically use them in our operations. Our capital is small and easy to manage without detailed plans.
AGN: What advice would you give to people wanting to start farming in Malawi now?
FM: I would advise they grow different types of crops. Diversification is key.
AGN: Why did you choose to grow tobacco?
FM: It was the most lucrative option when I started out.
AGN: What are some of the common diseases you have faced growing tobacco and how have you treated them?
FM: Some common diseases that affect tobacco plants here are: (i) Angular leaf spot, (ii) Root knot nematode and (iii) Bushy top virus.
I typically manage the first two conditions with chemicals. Ensuring planting is not left too late can help to moderate the third condition.