Charlie Bevan: Eat into poverty with Malawi rice

Smallholder farmers tending their fields in Malawi
Smallholder farmers tending their fields in Malawi
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As the Malawian proverb goes, “wali na charo wali na moyo” (the one who has land has life). Across Malawi, smallholder farmers proudly and ­diligently work their land, seeking a living for themselves and their ­children. However, low prices, lack of access to markets and unpredictable weather leave farmers vulnerable to food insecurity, with limited opportunities to make a living.

The Scotland Malawi Partnership’s #BuyMalawian2017 ­campaign is raising awareness of great tasting Malawian products, opening up ­Scottish markets to Malawian ­producers and, in turn, helping to support Malawian farmers, entrepreneurs and businesses.

Charlie Bevan, Scotland Malawi Partnership.

Charlie Bevan, Scotland Malawi Partnership.

As a country of smallholder farmers, a strong agricultural economy in Malawi is key to its development. Malawi has a population of around 17 million people, 80 per cent of them farmers. With roughly half the population living on less than £1 a day, it remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

While improvements in basic services such as health and education are required, for any such developments to be sustained there is an urgent need for Malawi to grow and diversify its own economy.

When Dr David Livingstone first arrived in what became Malawi more than 150 years ago, beginning the Scotland-Malawi friendship, he aimed to help support sustainable economic development by opening new trade routes and fighting against the slave trade.

The slave trade in Malawi may, thankfully, be largely consigned to history but the need for a strong Malawian economy is more important than ever. We in Scotland look to continue this mission in 2017 by helping build Scottish markets for Malawian products.

The University of Edinburgh ­estimates that there are more than 94,000 Scots involved in civic links with Malawi and these benefit 4 million Malawians and 300,000 Scots annually. Separate research ­suggests 46 per cent of Scots can name a friend or family member with a connection to Malawi. With such strong links the benefits go both ways.

Some of the producers set to gain from a growing Scottish market are the rice farmers of northern Malawi. Since 2009, Just Trading Scotland, a Scotland Malawi Partnership ­member, has been working hard to connect Malawian producers with the Scottish market through the importing of Kilombero rice. Kilombero rice is one of Africa’s premium products. In 2015 it won a Good Taste Award and has been ­commended for its richness of taste and absorbency of flavour.

By working in partnership with smallholder farmer associations in Malawi, by buying their rice at a fair price and selling to ­consumers in Scotland, JTS has ­enabled the farmers to invest in their land and in their families.

Howard Msukwa, Vice-Chairperson of Kaporo Smallholder Farmers Association, Karonga, said: “Before we started participating in fair trade, through JTS, prices of rice were very, very low.

“After we started dealing with JTS we can see some improvements…we were able to get some sort of premium from the sales of the rice in Scotland…pay for secondary education for some orphans…if the market can expand we can do even more!”

While rice farming is still very tough work, especially in the absence of farming machinery, assurance of a fair premium enables the farmers to invest in the futures of their families and the wider community. This year, for example, representatives from one farming association in Malawi have raised enough income to be able to invest in building their very own community school.

Buying Malawi’s Kilombero rice has never been so easy. Last year the Co-op in Scotland became the first national retailer to stock Kilombero rice in more than 200 stores.

If the opportunity to do good while enjoying great tasting food isn’t enough to convince you to Buy Malawian, perhaps the chance to ­visit “the warm heart of Africa” might? The Scotland Malawi Partnership is running a photo competition with a grand prize of a free holiday for two to Malawi, including return flights with Kenya Airways.

Visit the Scotland Malawi Partnership website for ­further details. The competition closes on 9 April. So, please join in with the Scotland ­Malawi Partnership and Buy Malawian. The way we choose to spend our money really does change lives.

Charlie Bevan, Scotland Malawi Partnership.