Empowering Women Farmers Through Sustainable Agriculture Initiatives

The greenhouses of the Kambuku Cooperatives stand prominently amidst newly planted maize fields by women farmers approximately 23 kilometers from Malawi’s capital city of Lilongwe. These facilities are notable not only for their innovative farming practices within the region but also for their dual purpose of addressing climate change and gender-based inequalities faced by women farmers.

In Malawi, women constitute 70 percent of full-time farmers and produce more than 80 percent of subsistence crops. Despite the country’s reliance on natural rains for crop cultivation, Malawi is susceptible to dry spells, intense rainfall, pests, and disease outbreaks, all exacerbated by climate change.

“Climate change and food and nutrition insecurity pose significant development challenges,” stated Letty Chiwara, UN Women Malawi Representative. “Only increased investments in sustainable food systems will ensure food security for all.”

Prose Mgundamavo, a member of Kambuku Cooperatives, concurred, emphasizing the detrimental effects of increasingly extreme weather on their crops.

With funding from the Korea International Cooperation Agency, UN Women established three project sites in Lilongwe, Salima, and Mzimba, featuring a total of 10 greenhouses. These innovative solar-powered facilities, constructed with a budget of USD 400,000, aim to enhance agricultural sustainability.

Since 2020, the Kambuku Cooperative in Lilongwe, comprising 98 members, 71 of whom are women, has cultivated tomatoes, green peppers, leafy vegetables, and strawberries. Their efforts have generated over 14 million Malawi Kwacha (USD 517,000) as of late 2023, enabling investments in a warehouse for product storage and additional water pumps. In early 2024, the cooperative secured a one-year contract worth 500,000 Malawi Kwacha (USD 18,500) to supply leafy vegetables to schools in Lilongwe monthly.

UN Women also collaborated with local woman-owned business Thanthwe Farms to provide support to workers, offering training on women’s involvement in decision-making processes and climate-resilient agriculture techniques, including crop diversification and water management. A total of 2,427 women farmers who attended these trainings have since applied the acquired skills to establish or expand their businesses.

In Mzimba, the training inspired women from the Umoza and Mpharayi Cooperatives to refine their methods for growing and packaging green peppers, leading to a contract with a hotel in Mzuzu, northern Malawi’s largest city.

women farmers
A woman attending to her farm at Malawi…source @UNWOMEN Malawi

“We greatly benefited from learning about climate-smart agriculture farming,” remarked Cecelia Lungu, vice chairperson of the Mpharayi Cooperative. “We must adapt to changing times and adopt new technologies to enhance our crop yields.”

The greenhouses also serve as demonstration sites, attracting research students from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Ruth Kampatura, treasurer of Kambuku Cooperatives, recounted how her son’s interest in agriculture was sparked by visits to the greenhouse.

“My son observed the installation of the first greenhouse years ago, followed me as I tended to the crops, and asked questions about their growth,” she shared. “Now, he has joined the cooperative and plans to expand our greenhouse business after completing university.”

Kambuku Cooperatives secured a government agricultural grant of 34 million Malawi Kwacha (USD 1.26 million) to expand their infrastructure with a warehouse. They have diversified into cultivating new crops such as beans and orange maize and hired two new employees, contributing to their vision of creating more job opportunities in the community.

“Investing in women farmers, the backbone of our agriculture sector, is crucial to poverty alleviation,” affirmed Esnart Kalunga, Lilongwe East’s Agriculture Extension Officer. “We must continue supporting women to excel in farming activities to empower them and ensure agricultural resilience.”

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