MASFA, Malawi

MASFA is an organisation of small-scale farmers in Malawi who produce peanuts for the export market and is also part-owner of Liberation Foods (UK Fair Trade nut company).

About MASFA

MASFA – the Mchinji Area Smallholder Farmers Association – is located in Mchinji District in the Central Region of Malawi, bordering eastern Zambia. 

Mchinji has a population of more than 300,000 families, each with six to eight members. Like much of Malawi, the area has widespread poverty with high rates of illiteracy and the majority of people living in basic mud huts. Health and education facilities are available, with most schools located within 5 km of members’ farms, but many of these facilities are in an acute state of disrepair and suffer from a lack of resources and trained staff.

About 95% of the population of Mchinji are smallholder farmers. Peanuts, known locally as groundnuts, are their main cash crop following the collapse of tobacco prices in 2010. Most farmers also produce tobacco, soybeans and maize, some also grow cotton and chillies and around half keep livestock. .

Peanuts are a traditional crop, well suited to the fertile soils and favourable climate of the region, and have low input costs – like most nuts in Malawi, MASFA nuts are grown with little or no use of expensive chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Processing machinery is generally unaffordable so the nuts are hand-shelled and hand-sorted to remove debris and spoiled nuts. 

Background & Structure

MASFA was established in 2001 with the support of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), an organisation that works to strengthen and improve agricultural production by smallholder farmers in the country. The project brought together 200 local groundnut farmers with the objectives of improving both market access and prices paid for nuts, and also to share expertise and give the farmers a collective voice in the marketplace.

Membership of MASFA has now grown to 2,275 farmers (nearly half of them women) who are formed into village level societies, known as clubs, of up to 20 members. MASFA buys all members’ groundnut production –providing the key benefit of a stable market for their crops – and provides warehousing to store the crops ready for transport.

Six Field Officers employed by MASFA provide members with production and post-harvest advice and technology, which has led to higher production. MASFA provides members with access to improved seeds to improve nut quality and, with NASFAM, runs capacity building programmes such as training in crop production, business skills and management of the farmer clubs. It also organises awareness-raising programmes on issues such as gender equality and HIV/AIDS.

In 2007, MASFA became a shareholder of Liberation Foods, a UK-based Fair Trade nut company set up by organisations including NASFAM and UK Fair Trade pioneer Twin. Liberation is part-owned by the producers of the peanuts, cashews and brazil nuts that it markets – over 22,000 smallholder nut producers from co-operatives in Asia, Africa and Latin America, including MASFA, set up the International Nut Producer Co-operative which holds a 42% stake in Liberation. This enables them to participate in the direction of the company and provides farmers with further control of the supply chain through to retailers in the UK.

Production & Sales

The average farm size is 1.5 hectares. Members grow peanuts on 500 hectares in total and produce around 630 tonnes a year. NASFAM is the main buyer of MASFA’s peanuts and currently supplies around 72 tonnes a year to the Fairtrade market.

Fairtrade

Fairtrade Standards include payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price, which is calculated to cover average costs of production, or the market price if higher. In addition MASFA receives the Fairtrade Premium of $110/tonne to spend on business improvements or community projects agreed by its members.

Fairtrade Premium Projects

The General Assembly of members agreed that the Premium will be distributed as follows: 40 per cent for community projects; 30 per cent cash bonus on sales paid to individual farmers on a pro rata basis; 30 per cent to cover the association’s transport and administration costs.

The first major Premium-funded project was construction of a guardian shelter at Mchinji District hospital which provides basic accommodation and a place to cook for people accompanying sick relatives and expectant mothers. The hospital was built 20 years ago for a district population of 275,000, but, in reality, patients come to the hospital from farther afield, including over the border in Mozambique and Zambia, so that it now serves a population of around 600,000 people. 

Guardians accompanying their relatives often travel long distances to the hospital. Previously they had to wait out in the scorching sun without access to facilities – no water, nowhere to cook, no beds. The brick shelter means a huge change for the people who provide food and comfort for patients.

Buying centres/warehouses have been constructed at two villages where farmers come to trade their peanuts and store their crops in a dry, secure environment. The centres are also used for activities such as under-fives clinics, nursery schools, community meetings and storage of farm inputs. Four more centres are a priority for future premium projects. 

The Premium money has been used to pay Fairtrade Certification costs and pay off the association’s debts, putting it in a much stronger financial position.