Last May, as the last bit of twilight faded, I met with the leaders of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative in Malawi. The twelve of us sat around a square of tables, in the newly constructed Cooperative offices. It was still warm, and we left the doors open for airflow and for the dim light still in the big open sky. It wasn’t late. Just south of the equator, the sun sets early all year. These men and women are all dedicated to increasing economic opportunity for everyone in the community and they were there to tell me about their next steps in that process.
“Together we grow.” Paul Lungu and Sequina show off some of their peanut crop last May.
“Together we grow,” is the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative motto. Part of that vision of shared prosperity is adding value to their crops. In addition to whatever responsibilities they have in their shops, trading businesses, schools, and churches, they are also farmers. They farm for their own food, and to be able to sell for extra income. Like so many other farmers around the world and throughout time, they realize that if they bring their crops together, then they can get the best prices. Rather than negotiate individually, they can negotiate as a unified force.
National Investment in Manyamula
In 2016, the national COMSIP Cooperative Union granted the Manyamula COMSIP a cost-sharing deal to construct a warehouse. The national Board saw the good work being done in this rural community. They saw Manyamula COMSIP’s good management on the training centre building project. In fact, the COMSIP Cooperative Union recognized the Manyamula COMSIP as the best performing cooperative in 2016!
The warehouse, built on the grounds of the Manyamula COMSIP Training Centre, gives farmer in the cooperative a safe and dry space to store their crops while they wait for the best market conditions to sell collectively. It will also be a facility where they can add value to their maize and peanut crops. The warehouse will be able to store the processed and packaged products until the market is right to sell.
Manyamula COMSIP has two maize mills. One grinds and one pounds. Rather than travel long distances (on foot, carrying the grain) to process their maize, cooperative members access the mill right in their neighborhood.
The warehouse was partially constructed that warm evening last May. I had toured it earlier that week, under the hot sun during the ribbon cutting ceremony. It served as the kitchen headquarters for our group that week. Women cooked the maize dish – called nsima, and similar to hardier polenta – and prepared chickens for our meals. In January, they completed the warehouse and finished the tin roof. It has one large crop storage room, a chemicals room and an outside office room for the warehouse caretaker.
Touring the partially completed warehouse in May, 2017.
Cooperative members are already bringing their crops to store in the warehouse. And soon collective crop marketing and value addition will bring more prosperity to this rural community.