Malawi – Training farmers in business analysis and planning
In March 2012, P4P Malawi organized a training workshop for ten farmers’ organizations (FOs) participating in P4P. The training was designed to introduce FOs to the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats), a tool that is intended to help them becoming businessmen and -women.
In October 2011 a lessons learned workshop with partners had shown that the P4P strategy, based on procurement-focused capacity development, had some limitations: it did not develop FOs performance, nor build their capacity to enter regular procurement modalities. The reason behind this was that FOs were and are at differing development stages, or lack appropriate supply- side support, and thus simply providing an opportunity to market their goods did not translate into good performance on contracts.
While the original strategy had achieved good results in helping farmers to improve the quality of their produce, it did not translate into strengthened business management or decreased defaults on delivery.
The March 2012 workshop for the 10 FOs took place in Mponela in central Malawi. Invitations were also extended to P4P partners which support the FOs on the ground such as World Vision (WVI), Millennium Village’s Project (MVP), Mchinji District’s agricultural office, the Agricultural Commodity Exchange (ACE) and USAID Market Linkages Initiative (MLI). The workshop was attended by a total of 30 farmer representatives (14 females and 16 males) from 10 farmer organizations.
In order to understand the SWOT methodology, participants were guided through a series of activities to help them familiarise themselves with the terms. The first exercise that participants performed was an individual “self” SWOT in order to become comfortable with using the tool. Following this, participants were divided into groups and asked to perform a SWOT on a fictional farmer household.
After this initial practice with the tool, participants were asked to perform a SWOT analysis in groups on their own FOs. The exercises showed that initially participants regarded strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as extrinsic factors forced on them, with little or no control from their side. This presents an interesting aspect to analyse when looking at FOs approach to business planning and problem solving as it may be one reason for the inability of FOs to pro-actively access markets and seek out market opportunities.
Almost all participants thought that strengths and opportunities were limited to external factors and failed to note existing internal opportunities such as highly trained membership or infrastructure capacity. The same was true for weaknesses and threats which were largely perceived as outside factors that hinder the development of FOs, with little or no reflection on the role of internal factors.
However, it also became evident through discussions with farmers that this misunderstanding is caused by the perception that access to markets is something which FOs have very little control over and that markets can only be accessed reactively, when buyers approach them. This presents a challenge, as FOs and P4P pursue a model of aggregated marketing, and this mentality affects the ability of FOs to aggregate in advance, as they see it as a risky and speculative activity.
This risk can be offset by clear action plans for the FOs, linked specifically to quantifying planned sales amounts for upcoming seasons. As part of the action planning activity, FOs were asked to prioritise what they had identified in the SWOT into issues that needed to be dealt with immediately, and issues which could be dealt with over time. The perceptions surrounding issues which needed to be dealt with immediately were in some cases inconsistent with the reality faced by the FO and contradictory to what was discussed as main issues of concern. The majority of the FOs noted that access to markets was an important weakness and yet did not table this as an immediate threat to the future development of the FO.
The same was true for an identified threat of farmers’ “unwillingness to aggregate”. It was also interesting to note that only one FO identified poor contract fulfilment as a weakness, when practically this weakness applies to all FOs to some degree. Failure to aggregate is not seen as a threat to the future development of the FOs and only two FOs noted the lack of reliable markets as a weakness.
Following the categorisation of identified issues, FOs were asked to create a complete action plan for a one year period on one of the main issues they had identified as needing to be dealt with immediately. One FO’s action plan illustrated quite clearly the inability of the FO to solve problems as a group. The same was true for another FO who largely concentrated on the role of external partnership in achieving their action plans. In these cases the FOs were advised to rethink their strategy and ensure that the action plans should also involve their own existing resources and take into account the issues they had listed as their strengths and opportunities
As the marketing season in Malawi has started now, FOs are trying to follow their individual action plans. WFP and partners who participated in the workshop are supporting them in this important exercise, which will enable them to look ahead and develop further action plans to respond to their other priorities.
Despite the challenges that emerged during the workshop, WFP and partners agreed that the exercise was incredibly important to the future development of the FOs and for their planning ability until the end of the P4P pilot and beyond. Robert Sendeza, Treasurer of the “Bua Mtete” FO mentioned that if it had not been for the action plan they prepared in the workshop, they would still be waiting for World Vision (WVI) to come to them and build the warehouse they have been talking about: "Instead of waiting, we went actively to look for the land to build the warehouse and we are now requesting WVI to start the construction as soon as possible".