Malawi winner of K67.m World Food Prize says dairy farming for job creation

Bettie Kawonga says business incubators for diary farmers can provide livelihoods for young people in Malawi, and the World Food Prize agrees

Bettie Kawonga, a 31-year-old lecturer and entrepreneur from Malawi, recently won a $150,000 prize for her idea to encourage underemployed young people to become dairy farmers. Her concept is to create business incubation centres that will help young people to become successful dairy entrepreneurs – simultaneously tackling two problems that blight Malawi: high unemployment and low agricultural productivity.

World Food Prize 40 Chances Fellows Emiliano Mroue, Lilian Uwintwali, Mahmud Johnson and Bettie Kawonga, with Howard G Buffett. Photograph: Jim Heemstra/World Food Prize

World Food Prize 40 Chances Fellows Emiliano Mroue, Lilian Uwintwali, Mahmud Johnson and Bettie Kawonga, with Howard G Buffett. Photograph: Jim Heemstra/World Food Prize

The prize was given by Howard G Buffett FoundationTony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative, and the World Food Prize foundation and is intended support 40 Chances Fellows to launch social enterprises that address hunger and poverty in Africa. The money will go far in Malawi, but Kawonga says there is still a long road to travel before her dream can be realised.

Malawi’s smallholder farmers work tiny plots they hold through customary land tenure. They don’t have access to simple technologies that can improve productivity and rely on family members for labour, making them extremely vulnerable to shocks such as failed rains or sickness in the family. As a result, rural communities, 90% of whom are reliant on agriculture for their livelihoods, face food insecurity, chronic malnutrition, consistently low income and high seasonal unemployment.

Smallholder dairy farming is a good solution to these problems, Kawonga says, because it provides year-round income, whereas crop farming employment is seasonal. It also contributes to nutrition security as well as poverty reduction because of milk’s higher nutritional and economic value.

When the first of Kawonga’s incubation centres open in Lilongwe in 2016, it will equip young people with leadership and technical skills in dairy husbandry, agribusiness management, loans and savings, and business proposal writing. Youth will be matched with business mentors and provided with start-up funds from an endowment to be created using a portion of the award money.

But do young Malawians want to be farmers? Kawonga refutes the suggestion that it might be hard to attract people to her incubation centres. She cites examples from Kenyawhere young people are returning to rural areas after their dreams of success in the city fail and they realise that there is money to be made in agriculture. “The youth are willing if we provide what they are looking for: skills, credit and the promise of a regular income and a good life.”

Her idea remains untested and measuring the impact of these centres on unemployment be a challenge, after all, most startups of all types fail after the first year. While it will be easy enough to say that the centres provided credit to help a young person get started in smallholder dairy farming, it will be a while before Kawonga can claim to have created sustainable employment as well as delivered on the other key indicators: improvements in nutrition, food security and job creation.

Still Kawonga is excited about the future. “We have been very conscious [that this is unchartered territory]. That’s why we are not launching centres in the whole country straight away. We want to see how the project fares first then roll it out from the centre region to the south, and then to the rest of Malawi. Our target for the first year is to reach 240 young people and I’m excited that these young people who are now idle will be engaged in agriculture – the engine of our economy.”

Despite her enthusiasm and drive, it seems policy and nature are not quite on Kawonga’s side. In 2014 the government introduced a 3% tax on milk which is said to be “choking the dairy industry” and she expresses sadness at the news ofsevere flooding across the southern half of Malawi over the past week. “When I heard from my relatives about floods my heart sank. I am still struggling to imagine what life is like for agricultural families in the flood hit areas: the disruption of livelihoods and the hunger (fuelling the vicious cycle of food insecurity), children who will fail to go to school because the classrooms would have been turned into shelters, health issues, the list go on and on.”

But when I ask what she is planning to do about the government levies that might act as a disincentive for smallholder dairy farming, Kawonga is defiant: “We started engaging government at the lowest levels – district offices and then the ministry. If we keep pushing in parliament, one day they will take [dairy farming] up for discussion because they also serve the people we are serving. I know the battle will be won one day.”–Source: The Guardian

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12 thoughts on “Malawi winner of K67.m World Food Prize says dairy farming for job creation”

  1. Nangozo says:

    Betty, congratulations! We are proud of you and the nation needs people like you. Where there is a will, there is a way! All the best.

  2. ELHAPO says:

    It is people like you Bettie, that make me proud to be called a Malawian!! May God bless and keep you!

  3. wish you well says:

    Congratulations Bettie! 2015: A Year Like No Other!

  4. Dzumani Masautso says:

    Congratulations Bettie for making it hah that it
    Dzumani [obihiro university of agric and vet medicines hokkaido jp]

  5. ujeni says:

    Malawi did not win the money, individuals won the money. Its her money won for a project of her choice, what difficult is there not to understand? Dull and jealous people you are, mukhalila yomweyo

  6. bunda says:

    Happy for My Livestock Management Lecturer…………… Mastan osalimbitsa moyo ngat awa sindinawaone. When u r in her class your lest assured of an A+ …. GOD BLESS YOU BETTIE

  7. gerald says:

    good programme.she is right.Malawians we are wasting time going in cities to look for employment.theres a lot of money in farming esp from dairy farming and other produce.A Malawi we can make a lot of dollars by exporting together

  8. Me too says:

    A good idea sells. But unless you write it down and promote it, it remains an idea. Do you have any idea to sell? The money is for her to implement her concept. Do not be a wet blanket! Instead support her. Rid yourself of envy. And, if you want to compete, put your idea forward. That’s the way to go.

  9. bengjie says:

    Buravooo”mrs.Bettie,all the very best”make your dreamz a reality

  10. Achawa says:

    Good ideas keep it up. But the has to change its not her money but project money for the benefit of smallholder farmers in Malawi. I did night school but I do spot problems where possible.

  11. kwabaniso says:

    Is this money for her or the programme and the country?????

    1. Marley says:

      It’s hers and her project… not for the country.

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