The Starter Pack Program in Malawi

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The Starter Pack Program in Malawi implications for household food security
Gough, Amy Elizabeth
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xii, 240 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Agricultural Education and Communication thesis, M.S ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Agricultural Education and Communication -- UF ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Thesis (M.S.)--University of Florida, 2002.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 234-239).
General Note:
General Note:
Electronic resources created as part of a prototype UF Institutional Repository and Faculty Papers project by the University of Florida.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Amy Elizabeth Gough.

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Full Text








I would first like to thank my mom, Mary Bigler, and dad, Paul Gough, for their

understanding, laughter, and energy. Their adaptability has allowed me to strive for what

I hope to accomplish. Additionally, Omer Bigler has been my biggest encouragement

and inspired me to follow the roads in front of me. Thanks also go to Joanne Gough, who

has reminded me of the value of patience, timing, and companionship, which truly helped

me work so hard; and to Kelli F. Chavez for her own ambition and acceptance.

I would also like to thank my committee chair, Dr. Ricky Telg, for his continuous

support and faith, and Dr. Peter Hildebrand for his expertise, optimism, and for the

tremendous amount of time he devoted to this project. I also would like to thank Dr.

Christina Gladwin, who allowed this research to be possible, and Dr. Glenn Israel for his


The most gracious thanks are also extended to all those in the Ministry of

Agriculture in Malawi for their warm welcome and attention to this research. Also, a

special thanks goes to all who worked towards this project in Malawi, particularly Edith

Kanyenda. Edith's passion for this project has truly inspired this work. The villages of

Sesse II and Bwetu provided never-ending inspiration and revealed the realities

surrounding this project. Tendai Mataya, David Nkaonja, Calvin Makoko and Titus

Mvalo created a foundation in Malawi allowing all things possible. Thanks go also to C.

Clark, T.Benson, and those in Malawi who shared their work towards this project.

I would like to thank those who have created a foundation for my learning and

living, particularly my sister Rose Shin, along with Dean Dukes, Amy Sullivan, Carlton

Pomeroy, and Damian McKenzie, particularly for their encouragement and ability of

knowing how to help. Finally, a special appreciation goes out to F. Corr for reminding

me that I know where I come from, what I represent, and what I can accomplish.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ........................................................................ ii

LIST OF FIGURES .......................................... ...............

LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS ................................................................... x

A B STR A CT ............................................................................................ ......xi


1 INTRODUCTION .................................................... .............................. 1

The Country ........................................... ................ ............................ 3
The Current Problem of Chronic Food Security in Malawi............... 10
The Need for Research and Considered Methodologies .................... 18

2 LITERATURE REVIEW...........................................................................25

Theoretical Considerations in Data Collection and Analysis................ 25
Theoretical Understanding of the Starter Pack Program in Malawi..... 37

STARTER PACK ..................................................... ........................... 45

The Recent Situation of Smallholders in Malawi.................................45
The Starter Pack and Voucher Programs .................................... ..63
Anticipating the Impact of the Starter Pack:
Household Considerations............................................................ 83

PACK PROGRAM..............................................................................95

Research Goals and Objectives .......................................................95
Research Methodology.................................................................. 98
Analyzing Additional Factors in Starter Pack Potential................... 127
Research A ssum options ......................................................................... 135

LIVELIHOOD SYSTEM........................................................................... 138

Analyzing the Impact on the Starter Pack Using the Linear Program. 138
Measuring the Potential of the Starter Pack Program......................... 147
Results of Decision Tree Analysis ...................................................... 167

6 CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS.................................... 172

Implications of Starter Pack Distribution Methods .............................. 172
Recommendations for the Starter Pack Program
in the M alawian Context.......................................................................... 183


JANUARY MAY 2000 ...................................................................... 196


C TOBACCO CHARACTERISTICS ......................................................... 198

D FOOD INSECURE EPA'S IN MALAWI 1998/1999 (MOAI)................ 199




REFEREN CES .......................................................................................... 234

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH...........................................................................240


1-1: Agricultural Divisions in Malawi ......................................... .............. 5

1-2: Average Monthly Rainfall in Southern Region: Liragnwe................... 6

1-4: January Daily Rainfall in Mponela...................................... ...............6

1-5: February Daily Rainfall in Mponela..................................... .............. 6

1-6: March Daily Rainfall in Mponela.................................................... 6

1-7: Percentage Growth in Agricultural Gross Domestic Product in
M alaw i.................................................................................................. 10

2-1: Example of a Problem Tree ..................................................................35

3-1: Farmers World Prices; February 2000..............................................49

3-2: Maize Seasonal Calendar........................................................................ 50

3-3: Tobacco Seasonal Calendar .................................................................. 50

3-4: Cassava Seasonal Calendar................................................................... 50

3-5: Soybean Seasonal Calendar .................................................................. 50

3-6: Groundnut Seasonal Calendar...............................................................50

3-7: Initially Designated Inputs and Suppliers for 1999/2000 Starter
Packs.................................................................................................... 66

3-8: Actual Inputs and Suppliers for 1999/2000 Starter Packs .....................67

3-9: Rate of Malawi Kwacha During Starter Pack Distribution
and Redemption ......................................... ....................................... 69

3-10: Reported Receipt of Starter Pack Voucher & Flexi Voucher................71

3-11: Luchenza Starter Pack Voucher Matrix..........................................74

3-12: Mponela Starter Pack Voucher Matrix............................................. 75

3-13: Mzimba Starter Pack Voucher Matrix..............................................76

3-14: Rate of Malawi Kwacha to US Dollar in
January 1995 January 2001 ............................................................. 84

3-15: Rate of Malawi Kwacha to US Dollar Prior to
Starter Pack Distribution................................................................. 84

4-1: Subject Selection by Region, Actual Input Received,
& Household Head ................................................................................... 104

4-2: Characteristics and Location of Interviewed Starter Pack Voucher
R recipients ........................................................................................... 105

4-3: Characteristics and Location of Interviewed Flexi Voucher
H households ............................................................................................ 106

4-4: Characteristics and Location of Interviewed Starter Pack Recipients... 106

4-5: Characteristics and Village Location of Interviewed Households
Receiving No Inputs ............................................................................... 107

4-6: Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) Reported Maize Yields In
Areas Locations, 1999/2000 ................................................................... 112

4-7: Hybrid Maize Yield in Fertilizer Verification Trials ........................... 113

4-8: Hybrid Maize Yield Conversion from Hectares to Acres.................... 114

4-9: Final Crop Yield Information for All Regions in Linear Program........ 114

4-10: Reported and FED Suggested Maize Consumption........................... 116

4-11: Individual Consumption Requirements.............................................. 117

4-12: Household Maize Requirements.........................................................118

4-13: Decision to Sell or Redeem Starter Pack Voucher............................. 131

4-14: Decision to Sell Flexi Voucher Now or Redeem Voucher................ 132

4-15: Decision to Obtain a Starter Pack with Flexi Voucher ...................... 133

4-16: Decision to Sell or Trade Parts of Starter Pack Inputs or Not.......... 134

5-1: Proportion of Land in Maize................................................................. 139

5-2: Linear program Feasibility Results and Field Determined Wealth
Index Ranking.......................................................................................... 141

5-3: Characteristics of Households in Linear Programming Analysis:
By Household Head................................................................................. 145

5-4: Characteristics of Households in Linear Program Analysis:
B y R region ............................................................................................... 146

5-5: Characteristics of Households in Linear Program Analysis:
By Available Land............................................................................ 147

5-6: Household Average Annual cash with varied Starter Pack Inputs:
Central Region (Households with average annual cash < USD
1200.00; n= 14)............................................... ..................................... 149

5-7: Average Year-End Cash with Varied Starter Pack Inputs:
Central Region (Households with average annual cash > USD
1200.00; n= 3).......................................................................................... 150

5-8: Average Increases in Cash Among Household Groups (n=47)............ 153

5-9: Percent Increases in Cash Among Household Groups (n=47) ............ 153

5-10: Actual Cash Increase with Five years of flexi Voucher (n=47) .......... 155

5-11: Combined household Maize Distribution Before, During, and After
Starter Pack Distribution (n=47) ......................................................... 158

5-12: Combined Household Maize Distribution Before, During, and After
Starter Pack Voucher Distribution (n=47) .......................................... 158

5-13: Combined Household Maize Distribution Before, During, and After
Flexi Voucher Distribution (n=47)...................................................... 158

5-14: Total Six-Year Maize Production of Forty-seven Households With
Four-Year Starter Pack Distribution .................................................. 162

5-15: Total Six-Year Maize Production of Forty-Seven Households With
Four-Years Starter Pack Voucher Distribution................................... 162

5-16: Total Six-Year Maize Production of Forty-Seven Households With
Four-Years Flexi Voucher Distribution .............................................. 163

5-17: Predicted Six-Year Maize Production with Various
Input Packages .................................................................................. 163

5-18: Average Increase in Total Seven-Year Maize Production with Starter
Pack and Flexi Voucher Inputs: By Household Group (n=47)........... 165

5-19: Percent Increase in Total Seven-Year Maize Production with Starter
Pack and Flexi Voucher Inputs: By Household Group (n=47)........... 165

5-20: Household Average Increase in Annual Maize sales with Five Years
of Starter Pack Distribution ................................................................. 167


Agricultural Development Division
Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation
Department for International Development
Extension Planning Area
Food and Agriculture Organization
Famine Early Warning System
Farming Systems Research and Extension
Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation
Malawi Congress Party
Malawi Kwacha
Productivity Enhancing Safety Net
Rural Development Project
Sustainable Livelihoods
United Democratic Front


Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science



Amy Elizabeth Gough

May 2002

Chair: Dr. Ricky Telg
Major Department: Agricultural Education and Communication

Due to increasing population, decreasing soil fertility, and limited fertilizer use,

Malawian smallholders suffer from chronic food insecurity. During both the 1998/1999

and 1999/2000 planting seasons, the Government of Malawi, in cooperation with donor

agencies, responded to smallholders desire for assistance with the Starter Pack Program.

Aimed at increasing food security during and after the program, the program provided

hybrid maize seed, urea, 23:21:0+4s, and groundnuts to 2.86 million farming households.

In 1999, a pilot program distributed vouchers, instead of starter packs, primarily

redeemable for the same inputs. A limited number, however, were redeemable for either

a starter pack or goods from participating retail stores.

It is likely that in future years the starter pack program will have to reduce

expenditures, consequently reducing the quantity of inputs, the size of the target

population, or both. It is therefore necessary to determine: a) what types of households

were most in need of starter pack inputs, b) what types of households hold the potential

for the greatest increase in food security upon receiving starter pack inputs, and c) what

inputs prove most beneficial in increasing both short and long-term food security.

This research explores the potential of the starter pack to increase food security of

Malawian smallholders. Data were collected from forty-seven households, disaggregated

by head of household, geographic location, and type of inputs received. Predictions of

potential increases in discretionary cash and maize production were made based on

simulations of households created using an ethnographic linear program.

Potential increases in cash or maize production differ with the type of inputs

received. Discretionary cash increases are greatest when households receive vouchers

with the option for either agricultural inputs or goods. The value of cash increases is

similar to the value of the inputs, indicating little potential for future production

increases. Increases in maize production are greatest when households receive starter

packs, an effective tool for increasing national maize production. Although all household

types demonstrate similar patterns of change in discretionary cash and maize production,

the relative impact of these benefits is greater for impoverished households.

Suggestions for the starter pack program focus on a reducing the target population

to the most impoverished households. This will allow for distribution of a larger quantity

of inputs to each household and a more effective distribution process. Future starter pack

programs should target households with less than two acres of available land, as they are

the most chronically food insecure. If the intention is to increase immediate food security

of these land-constrained households, vouchers redeemable for either agricultural or

household goods demonstrate the most adequate tool considered here.


Malawi is a small African country located in the southern section of the continent,

bordered by Tanzania to the north, Mozambique to the east and southwest, and Zambia to

the west. Agriculture provides employment for nearly 90% of all households, accounts

for 40% of the GDP, and generates 77% of the revenue from Malawi's exports (Sahn and

Arulpragasam, 1991). Typical crops grown for consumption are maize, cassava,

groundnuts, and pulses. Other crops include tobacco, tea, sugarcane, cotton, bananas,

vegetables, and rice. As of July 2000, the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MoAI)

estimated that 2,786,576 farming families existed in the country. Other livelihood

activities include timber, charcoal, fisheries, ganyu (informal) labor, and making and

selling bricks. With 87% of Malawi's population residing in rural areas, food security in

Malawi is far less than adequate. The Malawi government, as well as donor agencies,

have attempted to introduce programs to both improve smallholder production and to

increase food security.

In both 1998/1999 and 1999/2000 planting seasons, the Ministry of Agriculture

and Irrigation, in collaboration with numerous international agencies, implemented a plan

to distribute "starter packs" to all farming households. These packs contained two

kilograms hybrid maize seed, 10 kilograms 23:21:0+4s, five kilograms urea, and two

kilograms either groundnuts or soybeans. Contents of the starter pack were intended to

allow households to plant 0.1 hectare of land. There was no cost or repayment on behalf

of the targeted farmers. The suggestion for the starter pack program was presented in

1998 by Charles Mann, who stated that national food security could be best achieved by

distributing hybrid seed and fertilizer to all Malawian farmers. The program began under

the assumption that by distributing appropriate modem technologies to smallholders (in

the form of inorganic fertilizer, maize seed, and legumes) Malawi's food insecure

households would experience an increase in annual yields, improved soil fertility, and

ultimately improved food security. Distribution of starter packs resulted in a total of 2.53

million farming households receiving inputs during 1998/ 1999 and 2.86 million farming

households during 1999/2000. The objectives of the starter pack distribution in

1999/2000 were: "a) to assist fill the food gap; b) to promote crop diversification; and c)

to promote the concept of soil fertility improvement" (Clark et al., February 2000 p. ii).

The 1999 starter pack program included a pilot project designed to distribute up to

50,000 starter packs through existing private-sector retail outlets. Selected registered

households did not receive traditional starter packs, rather vouchers to be redeemed at

local retailers. On 49,000 of these vouchers, the words "starter pack voucher" were

printed. These were redeemable at local trading center retailers for only starter packs.

On the remaining 1,000 vouchers, the words "flexi voucher" were printed, indicating that

vouchers could be redeemed at local trading centers for either a starter pack or goods

valuing up to Malawi Kwacha (MK) 450.00.'

The primary purpose of this research is to evaluate the impact of both the starter

pack and voucher program as a tool of increasing food security and promoting

sustainable livelihoods among rural Malawian smallholder farmers. In analyzing the

' Redemption of vouchers was between November 28 and December 3, 1999; at which time MK450.00
was equivalent to approximately $8.00 $9.00 US dollars.

program, this research also compares differences in the potential impact of the three

distribution methods utilized for the 1999/2000 starter pack program (starter pack, starter

pack voucher, and flexi voucher). Although implementation of the starter pack resulted

in 2.86 million households receiving inputs, the verdict is still questionable as to whether

the starter pack helped the poor households reduce food insecurity in both the short and

long term.

In order to assess the impact of the starter pack program according to the

perspective of smallholder farmers throughout Malawi, household level data was

collected and disaggregated both by head of household and the type of inputs received in

association with the starter pack program. The primary goal of household data collection

included eliciting complete household level data in order to understand existing

livelihood systems and the methods in which starter pack inputs were utilized -

ultimately to determine the program's impact on food security. Additionally, secondary

data served as baseline data with which to understand the productivity trends of these

households, the national context of the starter pack program, cultural, seasonal, and

farming trends, and fundamentally the overall livelihood systems by which these

households function.

The Country

Within the relatively small nation of Malawi, one fifth of the actual country is

comprised of Lake Malawi, which stretches almost 600 kilometers along the east side of

the country. To the west of the lake, plateaus reach between 915 and 1220 meters. The

highest point in Malawi is Thyolo Mountain. The Shire highlands, found in the southern

region of the country, contain Zomba Mountain, with its peak of 2134 meters.

Malawi experiences a considerably high population and population density.

Despite discrepancies as to the actual population of Malawi, the National Statistics Office

(NSO) projected the 1998 mid-year population at 9.8 million, with an annual population

growth rate of 1.9%. In 1999, 87% of the population lived in rural areas (Central

Intelligence Agency [CIA], 1999). The population density in persons per square

kilometer is: 46 persons/km in the northern region, 114 persons/km in the central region,

and 144/km in the southern region. Estimates of the number of households living below

the poverty level are debatable, with the most recent results compiled by the National

Economic Council's (NEC) Integrated Household Survey (IHS). The IHS estimates the

number of people living below the poverty line in Malawi (1997-1998) to be 64.0 percent

nationally, and 43.7 percent in urban areas.

Throughout Malawi, agriculture provides employment for nearly 90% of all

households, accounts for 40% of the GDP, and generates 77% of the revenue from

Malawi's exports (Sahn and Arulpragasam, 1991). The estimated 2,786,576 farming

families in Malawi was a figure based on registration for the starter pack distribution, and

may in fact be much higher, as registration records appear to have missed a number of

farming households.

Agricultural Administrative Boundaries

Agriculturally, the country is divided into eight regions, known as Agricultural

Development Division's (ADD), consisting of Karonga, Mzuzu, Kasungu, Lilongwe,

Salima, Machinga, Blantyre, and Shire Valley. ADDs are managed by program

managers and are subdivided into Rural Development Projects (RDP) managed by

project officers. There are a total of thirty-one RDPs nationwide, which are further


divided into smaller sections called Extension Planning Areas (EPA), which are managed

by development officers. There are a total of 175 EPAs in the country. Finally, these

planning areas are subdivided into sections, which are coordinated by field assistants who

are in contact with farmers. There are a total of 2,029 sections in the country (figure 1-1).


Extension Planning Area
(EPA) 175

Rural Development Project
(RDP) 31
Agriculture Development Division
(ADD) 8
Ministry of Agriculture
Figure 1-1: Agricultural Divisions in Malawi


Temperatures in Malawi vary depending on altitude. Mountain areas exhibit

cooler temperatures ranging from 14.4 and 17.8 degrees Celsius, while temperatures in

some valleys reach up to 37.8 degrees Celsius.

Annual rainfall ranges from 635 to 3050 mm per year. In average years most

parts of the country receive adequate rainfall for farming. The southern region receives a

bit more rainfall during the dry season than do the central and northern regions. A

sample rainfall curve from the1999/2000 Lirangwe EPA (in the southern ADD of

Blantyre) can assist in viewing the 1999/2000 annual rainfall patterns within the

southern region (figure 1-2). Additionally, the daily rainfall rates during the four

months of the rainy season are illustrated utilizing the 1999/2000 rainfalls from the

central region of Mponela (figures 1-3 through 1-6).

Figure 1-2:

Average Monthly Rainfall in Lirangwe, 1999/2000

40.00 0 December
0.00 -

Figure 1-3: December Rainfall Rates
in Mponela

20.00 [ February
0.00oo 11H ... P fl

Figure 1-5: February Rainfall Rates
in Mponela

40.00 January
20.00 -

Figure 1-4: January Rainfall Rates
in Mponela


|00 | March |
0.00 I, I' 1

Figure 1-6: March Rainfall Rates
in Mponela

The past five years have revealed a variety of environmental influences

dramatically affecting smallholder farmers. For example, severe flooding during the late

1990s in the lower Shire resulted in diminished yields and a long period of recovery for

1999/2000 Rainfall in Southern Region:

1000 Lirangwe
600 --R
0 ( ., .

O Mot CI

'a Month


smallholder farmers. The 1999/2000 season was characterized by a positive marking in

the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). Generally, a positive marking is associated with

wet weather conditions over parts of Southern Africa. A positive SOI tends to support

cooling of the waters in the Central and Eastern Pacific Ocean (i.e. La Nina). The result

of this situation generally presents above average rainfall of an erratic nature. Rains (and

therefore planting) in the 1999/2000 season began in late November; approximately

November 26, 1999.


Reforestation is currently a large concern of the Ministry of Agriculture and

Irrigation. Protected lands throughout the country currently include national parks, forest

reserves and game reserves. National parks include Kasungu National Park, Lake

Malawi National Park, Liwonde National Park, Nyika National Park, and Luwawa

National Park. Forest reserves include Dzalanyama Forest Reserve and Chikangawa

Forest Reserve. Game reserves include Lifupa Game Reserve (within Kasungu National

Park) and Majete Game Reserve. The Government of Malawi has recently implemented

a MK 5000 penalty for individuals caught deforesting. The problem of deforestation is

the result of households searching for firewood and charcoal.2 "Deforestation has been a

problem in Malawi for a long time because of the sheer need for wood fuel which still

gives Malawi ninety percent of its energy, a fact that is likely to survive the millennium.

The introduction of a multiparty system in 1994 corresponded with dramatic incidences

of license, as when trees were cut in Lilongwe city's fuel wood reserve plantations and

2 Charcoal prices vary regionally, with the central region being the most expensive (approximately MK
150-200 per 50 kg bag), followed by the southern region (approximately MK 70-100 per 50 kg bag), and
finally the northern region (approximately MK 50-70 per 50 kg bag). It is important to note that a 50 kg
bag of charcoal does not weigh 50 kilograms, rather is equivalent to the amount of charcoal that can
physically fit into a 50 kg bag; however this is the unit of sale.

the unfettered advent of daytime roadside piles of wood and charcoal for sale" (Lwanda,

1999 p. 33). Though most forests tend to be in the northern region of the country, those

areas suffering the consequences of deforestation tend to be areas exhibiting high

population density.

Politics and Agriculture in Malawi

In 1891, the Queen of Britain proclaimed what is now Malawi as a protectorate.

Malawi received independence in 1964, which initiated the beginning of Dr. Kamuzu

Banda's regime. Dr. Banda's thirty-year leadership bordered on tyranny, yet served

successful in developing strong relations with heavily industrialized areas. Dr. Banda, a

representative of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), remained in power until 1994; when

Dr. Bakili Muluzi from the opposition party of the United Democratic Front (UDF)

obtained power.

During Malawi's colonial era, from 1891 until independence in 1964, Malawi

experienced minimal growth in the industrial sector, and grew into a society dominated

by subsistence agriculture. Initial measures towards formal development of social

welfare programs emerged during the colonial era, with the Colonial Development and

Welfare Act of 1940, which aimed at improving rural livelihood sustainability through

agricultural development. It was assumed that higher incomes from a market-oriented

agricultural sector would be used to buy goods and services, which would in turn raise

people's living standards (Lwanda, 1999).

Dr. Kamuzu Banda's regime from 1964 to 1994 displayed slow but steady growth

in the agricultural sector. After independence in 1964, the Malawi Congress Party

government developed its first long-term plan for acceleration of social development;

predominately emphasizing the expansion of agricultural production. This plan was

predominately an economistic approach to social development. During the 1970s,

agricultural development remained the top priority of the Government of Malawi (still

under the leadership of Dr. Kamuzu Banda and the Malawi Congress Party). With

ultimate goals primarily residing in financial independence from former colonial powers,

education in agriculture, health, and other social programs were emphasized. During the

1980s, the most notable policy driven agricultural development occurred with the

expansion of the estate sector of tobacco, due to the government's encouragement of

burley and flue-cured tobacco production. With the large demand on the foreign market

for these types of tobacco, the government targeted considerable policy towards such


Recent changes, most notably the 1994 transition from Dr. Banda's regime to the

democratic regime of president Dr. Bakili Muluzi, have altered the agricultural sector of

Malawi. Political influence on agriculture, such as liberalization of the market in 1994,

the removal of fertilizer subsidies, reduction in credit opportunities, increased prices of

maize enhanced by a devalued Malawi Kwacha and a series of changes in the tobacco

sector have resulted in decreased smallholder food security. During the 1990s, the

arrival of the multiparty system in Malawi brought additional shifts in governmental

agricultural priorities. Smallholders were recently permitted participation in production

of burley tobacco with the hopes of strengthening existing rural livelihood systems and

providing alternative income sources for smallholder farmers. It was also during these

more recent years that additional pressures such as population, soil fertility depletion, and

land scarcity flourished. Malawi's still underdeveloped industrial sector resulted in a

nation immensely dependent upon male out-migration for employment, leaving the

responsibility of subsistence farming heavily on Malawian women. Male out-migration

has since reduced, meaning new definition of family structures.

The Current Problem of Chronic Food Insecurity In Malawi

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines

food security as all people at all times having physical and economic access to needed

food (FAO, 1998). The objective of food security has been defined as "assuring to all

human beings the physical and economic access to basic foods they need" (Thomson &

Metz, 1997). During the 1964-1994 Banda regime in Malawi, few questioned the extent

of food insecure households. Malawi, then, was assumed to be relatively food secure. In

the early 1980s, Malawi experienced economic growth due to successful tobacco estate

production and export, along with the introduction of hybrid maize. Dr. Banda's

emphasis on export crops strengthened international investment. This growth, however,

was predominately the result of the estates rather than smallholders (figure 1-7).

Percentage Growth in Agricultural GDP in Malawi
& 6 Ii Estates
| 4 -- --
0, M ESmallholders

SB OTotal Agriculture
-2 1973-1980 1980-1987 1987-1994

Figure 1-7: Percentage Growth in Agricultural Gross Domestic Product in Malawi
Source: World Bank, 1995.
Limited smallholder production has been a concern of both smallholders

themselves and the government of Malawi. Rural Malawian households are in need of a

safety net program aimed at improving the productivity, increasing the food security, and

encouraging potentially sustainable livelihood systems for Malawi's resource-poor

farmers. Government has prioritized increasing agricultural production, considering that

over 80% of the population reside in rural households, and most face chronic food

insecurity for two to five months every year (Gladwin et al., 2001). Smallholder farmers,

facing limited opportunities for improving yields, sought government, donor, and private

assistance to overcome these shocks and stresses.

Obstacles to Malawian Food Security: Shocks and Stresses to Existing Systems

Shocks and stresses contributing to the deterioration of the sustainability of the

Malawian smallholder livelihood systems include recurrent devaluations of the Malawi

Kwacha (MK), depleted soils resulting in poor yields, collapse of the credit system,

increased population (resulting in land constraints and higher population densities),

instability within the tobacco market structure and regulations, imperfect markets, and

insecure health conditions, particularly as a result of chronic malnutrition and the

frequency of HIV/AIDS within Malawi. These factors, considered shocks and stresses to

the system of smallholder farmers, have pushed farmers away from the sole activity of

farming and towards secondary or tertiary activities to help them improve food security.

Devaluations of local currency

Global economic changes have resulted in the devaluation of the Malawi Kwacha

and have created extreme shocks and stresses to livelihood activities in both rural and

urban Malawi (Gladwin et al., 1999). During the 1999/2000 starter pack distribution, the

Malawi Kwacha ranged from approximately 38-45 MK per US dollar. Agricultural input

prices were experiencing a steady incline, with a ten-kilogram bag of commonly planted

Panner maize seed running MK 595; a fifty-kilogram bag of urea fertilizer running MK

825; and a fifty-kilogram bag of 23:21:0 +4s running MK 780. Considering the

devaluation of the Malawi Kwacha, these prices simply create unrealistic situations for

smallholders to purchase inorganic fertilizer. Smallholders who engage in any type of

off-farm employment are equally challenged, as recent devaluations in the Malawi

Kwacha have included no correspondent increase in paid wages.3

Decreasing yields

One commonly identified production problem is that of decreasing yields over the

past ten years. Farmers in all regions of the country complain of diminished soil fertility

due to the increased cost of inorganic fertilizers (Benson 1999). Additionally, land

constraints reduce the amount of food smallholders can produce on their own farms.

Smallholders, particularly those in the southern region of Malawi and those residing

relatively close to urban centers, often farming on 0.3 hectares of land or less, suffer the

consequences of land constraints. Farmers also suffer from labor constraints, brought

about by a lack of draft power, inadequate health conditions, and HIV/AIDS. Other

production complaints stem from poor rainfall patterns, droughts in 1991/1992 and

1993/1994 seasons and unreliable market prices and structure, particularly within the

dominating cash crop of tobacco.

Prior to the 1980s, fertilizer subsidies were provided to smallholder farmers in

order to encourage fertilizer use and increase agricultural output, primarily maize (Sahn

and Arulpragasam, 1991). These subsidies were phased out in the 1980s as part of

structural adjustment loans in response to the weak national economy (Sahn and

Recent devaluations have resulted in a reduced taxation, however, on paid employees throughout Malawi. Taxes
were reduced in 2000 from 38% to 35%. This reduction is of little significance to subsistence farmers.

Arulpragasam, 1991). The subsidy removal (along with rising world fertilizer prices) has

decreased the profitability of using fertilizer on food crops (Sahn and Arulpragasam,

1991). Fertilizer use has dropped since 1994 in Malawi (Gladwin et al., 1997).

Collapse of the credit system

During the 1980s Malawi exhibited a variety of organizations providing fertilizer

to smallholder farmers. Although not all areas were exposed to credit organizations or

clubs providing access to fertilizer, households that found access to credit had an

exceptionally high recovery rate on loans at well over 90 percent.4 Malawi became a

model for providing access to credit at low interest rates to African smallholders

(Gladwin, 1999). In 1994, as Malawi moved into a multiparty system, default rates

continued to grow. Subsidized interest rates, previously close to ten percent, grew to

anywhere from thirty to fifty percent during this time (Gladwin, 1999). The collapse of

the credit system has left farmers with extremely limited access to credit, subsequently

decreasing yields, and further affected the integration of cash crops in smallholder


Increased population and land scarcity

Within many Malawian households, the available land for production is often so

minimal that these land constraints create barriers to the farmer's livelihood system. The

amount and type of land allocated to a particular household can be considered the result

of a number of influences including geographic region. The northern region, for

4 According to interviews here, a number of different situations repeatedly occurred surrounding household
dynamics in obtaining credit; particularly for fertilizer use. Many loans were provided to women, while
inputs were used by men; and many inputs were provided to women but as inputs were sold by men it
became the male decision to repay the loan or not. Additionally, group loans resulted in a variety of
dynamics demonstrating the complexity of household dynamics when only one person is eligible for, or
receives, a credit. Further, many credits not received for fertilizer were manipulated to be used for
fertilizer, demonstrating the emphasis of smallholders on loans for chemical fertilizer.

example, is less densely populated than the.central or southern region. This could result

in greater (adequate) land allocation in the northern region, which could in turn result in

increased options in allocation of cropland. However, although the northern region

exhibits a lower population density, it is comprised of large amounts of forestland,

creating the potential for equally challenging land constraints.

Households in the southern region of Malawi demonstrate great frustration

because of the high population density and subsequent land constraints. Similarly,

farming households located close to urban centers, such as Lilongwe (central), Blantyre

(south), and Mzuzu (north) often exhibit similar land constraint problems.

Changes in market structure

Market liberalization occurred in 1994 throughout Malawi. Prices of all crops,

with the exception of maize, are presently liberalized. Due to the recent occurrence of

this liberalization, the long-term results, benefits, or hardships, cannot yet be observed.

During this interim, farmers must work to learn how to best manipulate these once non-

existent markets. At present, many smallholder farmers consider market prices

unreliable, particularly when smallholders consider the increasing fertilizer prices and

decreasing yields. Similarly, instabilities in local markets damage the reliability of

household systems. FAO considers availability, stability, and access when determining

degrees of food security (Thomson & Metz, 1997). Due to the undetermined stability of

the Malawian agricultural marketing systems, rural households are often lacking

availability, stability, and access to producing and purchasing these basic foods due to

their own instability in generating consistent cash incomes. The overall result is

decreased food security. Additionally, farmers are unsure of how to best manipulate new

markets as a source of income. The changes brought about by mere introduction of these

markets have created a new set of strategies implemented by Malawian rural farmers.

These changes, then, can be considered a stress or shock to the households currently

operating within the newly emergent market structure.

A maize price-band system is still operated by the government, with the intention

of eliminating extreme price variation resulting from differences in agricultural

productivity, seasonal availability, and/or regional availability. Markets for cash crops,

however, are extremely volatile and therefore greatly limit farmers' ability to consistently

profit from selling cash crops.

Social developments

The high rates of HIV/AIDS throughout Malawi have also affected household

livelihood systems through changes in household available labor, male out-migration,

household remittances, intra-household dynamics, and additional household financial

stresses. The once frequent male out-migration has become limited with the emergence

of HIV/AIDS. Malawi's previous out-migration to South African mines, for example,

was stunted when many Malawian males were denied access to work in South Africa due

to the fear of rapidly increasing rates of HIV/AIDS.5 The immediate impacts of

HIV/AIDS are inescapable to subsistence farmers throughout Malawi. Nationwide,

farmers of all economic or social classes have felt the impact of HIV/AIDS as labor pools

are decreased and financial costs (such as funeral costs and mainstream or traditional

doctors visits) are increased. The decreasing labor pool holds great potential to greatly

alter the decisions made by smallholders in both on and off farm employment.

5 Recent changes in political structure of South Africa, as well as other African nations, have further
contributed to a decline in out-migration.

Similarly, malnutrition among both adults and children is considered an

influential factor adding to the problems of disease, hard labor, and early and frequent

pregnancies among women, which all contributed to the poor health of many rural adults

in Malawi (UNICEF, 2001). Although malnutrition is by no means a new social

development, it further threatens the consistency of the Malawian labor force.

Additional forces have further compounded the instability of food security among

Malawian households. Domestically, barriers include availability of off-farm income,

changes in social structure, and of course political and ethnic barriers. Internationally,

Malawian smallholders are subject to the impacts of decreased foreign investment, fads

in donor interventions, and alterations in international relations with countries such as

Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and additional countries with which Malawi

shares their resource pool for both agricultural outputs and labor inputs.

Beneath all factors potentially limiting food security rests the problem of

consistently decreasing yields and the lack of sustainability among the livelihood systems

of Malawian smallholder farmers. Smallholder farmers in Malawi experience low

productivity and low earnings leading to chronic food insecurity, and face little

opportunity for employing different strategies. Without food security, the Malawian

people are forced to seek governmental assistance in the form of food for work programs,

welfare programs, and free input programs (e.g., safety net programs). Government

intervention, such as the starter pack program, aims to increase food security by

empowering smallholders and increasing production. Ideally, this would increase food

security both during the time of the program implementation and after the program is


The Starter Pack: A Tool For Household Food Security and Enhanced Productivity

Considering the farming and livelihood systems of smallholders in Malawi, and

the recent shocks and stresses to those systems, policy planners have been experimenting

with ways to decrease the chronic food insecurity and vulnerability of the poor in

Malawi. Given the considerable magnitude of chronic food insecurity, suggestions for

improving food security included consideration of a "safety net" program. Safety net

programs function under the preliminary assumption that overall sustainability depends

upon increasing the resilience of the most marginal population within a particular area.

One such effort to eliminate chronic food insecurity was the "starter pack" program first

implemented in the 1998/1999 season.

Designed to jump start yields, the starter pack program distributed five kilograms

urea and ten kilograms 23:21:0+4s, two kilograms of either groundnuts or soybeans, and

two kilograms hybrid maize seed to 2.86 million farming families during both the

1998/1999 and 1999/2000 farming seasons. The inputs selected aimed to provide each

recipient with adequate maize supply for planting 0.1 hectares of land. The objectives

were: "a) to assist fill the food gap; b) to promote crop diversification; and c) to promote

the concept of soil fertility improvement" (Clark, February 2000, p ii). After two-years

of starter pack distribution, the starter pack program was credited as being a major

contributor to the national maize surplus in the year 2000.

The starter pack program was repeated in 1999/2000 along with a pilot starter

pack voucher project. The purpose of the starter pack voucher pilot project was to "test

the capability of the national retail chains to transport, store and distribute packs to

recipients, and to examine the various modalities of distribution" (Killick et al., February

2000). At three selected test sites, the pilot project tested the number of distributing

outlets, timing of voucher distribution, and method of transporting starter packs to retail

outlets. The pilot voucher distribution also held the potential to measure the priorities of

smallholder Malawian farmers by analyzing the inputs selected.

Future plans for starter pack distribution include plans of reducing the target

population to forty-percent of the population, and reducing the amount of inputs included,

with suggestions from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation that communities

themselves should select the reduced target population while prioritizing widows, female-

headed households, and the. elderly. Other considerations include possibilities of future

inclusion of agroforesty inputs incorporated into the starter packs.

The Need for Research and Considered Methodologies

Considering the farming and livelihood systems of smallholder farmers in

Malawi, and the recent shocks and stresses to those systems, policy planners have been

experimenting with ways, like introduction of the starter pack program, to decrease the

chronic food insecurity and vulnerability of the poor in Malawi. Given the considerable

magnitude of food insecurity, suggestions for improving food security have included

considerations of a "safety net" program. Safety net programs function under the

preliminary assumption that overall sustainability depends upon increasing the resilience

of the most marginal population within a particular area. Safety net programs, as a type

of social welfare program, target marginalized populations expecting that empowerment

of these groups will result in subsequent sustainability.

The suggestion for a starter pack program was outlined by Charles Mann (1998)

who suggested that national food security could be best achieved by distributing hybrid

seed and fertilizer to all Malawian farmers. This essential foundation for broad-based

income growth in Malawi was expected to result in a subsequent bumper maize harvest,

thereby reducing inflation of maize prices, and ultimately reducing food insecurity. The

starter pack and voucher programs were indeed implemented as such a nationwide safety

net, and hold great potential, if implemented correctly, to become a targeted, productivity

enhancing safety net (Devereux, 1999; Gladwin et al., 2001).

In this context, recommendations leading to the development of the starter pack

program came with the understanding that smallholder farmers needed some sort of

"safety net" program to empower households. Even stronger recommendations

suggested designing programs with the potential to increase the productivity of

households suffering the most severe economic strains. Unfortunately, virtually all

smallholder farmers in Malawi suffer the most severe economic strains. Due to the

diminishing maize production within Malawi, the ideal smallholder strategy was a

comprehensive one as "it is not just the poor who need a safety net... Malawi itself

needs a safety net" (Mann, 1998 p. 7).

Contextualizing Research: Overview of Sustainable Livelihoods (SL) Approach

With the hopes of understanding the multiple dimensions of food insecurity the

sustainable livelihoods (SL) framework built on Chambers (1997) attempts to construct a

multidimensional understanding of poverty and food insecurity by understanding the

complex dimensions of household life. Understanding the vulnerability of rural, food

insecure households is intended to create entry points from which to design assistance

programs. With this, rural systems are evaluated by considering-the household as

impacted by the farming system, entire livelihood system, access to resources or inputs

and structural forces such as political influences. Upon considering these influences, the

livelihood strategies and outcomes adopted by farmers can be both described and

rationalized. In evaluating a system utilizing the sustainable livelihoods methodology,

systems are first evaluated according to their livelihood activities. Following this, SL

research investigates methods of coping and adapting to shocks and stresses and

eventually finds appropriate entry points for potential reinforcement.

Whether shocks experienced by households are economic (devaluation, removal

of fertilizer subsidies), bio-physical, or agro-climatic (droughts or floods), the foundation

of the sustainable livelihoods approach rests in understanding the types of strategies a

household can employ in order to empower itself and become a sustainable livelihood

system. "A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and

shocks, and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future,

while not undermining the natural resource base" (DFID, 1999 p.5; adapted from

Scoones, 1998). The preliminary assumption of the SL approach with regard to safety

nets is that the overall system's sustainability depends on increasing the resilience of the

most marginal or threatened population in a particular area (Gladwin, 2000). The

sustainable livelihoods approach attempts to provide an analytical structure for

understanding the multidimensional aspects of livelihood systems. The difficulty in

sustainable livelihoods research lies in the difficulty in operationalizing the findings.

Beginning with an analysis of the vulnerability of the poor, who usually suffer from

many shocks and stresses to their livelihood systems, the sustainable livelihoods

approach has guided research planning, project design, data collection, and data analysis

(DFID 1999).

The Need For Research: Understanding the Potential of the Starter Pack

The primary purpose of this research is to evaluate the impact of both the starter

pack and voucher program as a tool of increasing food security and promoting

sustainable livelihoods among rural Malawian smallholder farmers. Unsatisfactory levels

of food security in Malawi brought about the need for the starter pack. As stated, the

future of the starter pack program within Malawi is undecided, and therefore it is of great

use to understand what types of households were able to improve the sustainability of

their livelihood systems, and what types of households can be predicted to do so with

future distribution. Since inputs were received through means of traditional starter pack

receipt, starter pack voucher receipt, or flexi voucher receipt, there exists great potential

for varying degrees of assistance experienced at the household level. Each distribution

method required different responsibilities for household members in receiving inputs

(picking up packs, redeeming vouchers, etc.) and provided households with various

opportunities (selling vouchers, trading, receiving either goods or starter packs, etc.). By

understanding the impact that each distribution method had on various types of

households, this research can assist in identifying types of households who may perhaps

best benefit from particular types of distribution. The potential impact that various

distribution methods of starter packs have on particular types of households can be

predicted according to household domains. Such domains may include households

represented by female or male-headed households, those engage in particular activities

(for example off-farm employment), those in particular regions, those within a particular

agricultural zone, or even those within a particular political zone.

Second, due to inclusion of analysis of the flexi voucher program (and the

opportunities to buy/sell starter packs) this analysis can extract the self-perceived input

needs of rural Malawian households. By observing decisions made by recipients of flexi

vouchers and questioning these recipients as to the criteria utilized in making these

decisions, desired needs of smallholder farmers can be extracted. Further, by

understanding the household level decision-making process regarding soil fertility

amendments, or inputs received through voucher distribution, this research hopes to

reveal the self identified priorities of smallholder farmers particularly with regard to

desired inputs.

Third and final, this research can assist in understanding implications of the

starter pack and voucher pilot project as a prototype of a safety net for Malawi. Research

here, then, can assist in future policy development regarding safety net voucher projects.

The starter pack did not function as a typical safety net program, in that the target

population included all smallholder farmers in Malawi rather than farmers considered the

poorest of the poor. Traditional safety net programs do not target an entire population,

rather only predetermined food insecure households. Although necessary, future funding

will presumably not be adequate to continue such assistance on a permanent basis. Once

the needs of smallholder farmers are understood, safety net programs face the immense

challenge of targeting assistance. This research aims to understand the essential

components, primarily the type of inputs necessary to assist households in both creating

sustainable livelihoods and increasing food security. Future safety net programs, then,

can hopefully utilize this information in matching available assistance with the

appropriate target population.

Research Approach: Strategies Employed

The primary goal of data collection included eliciting complete household level

data in order to understand both existing livelihood systems and the methods in which

inputs provided by the starter pack program were utilized. Between July 8, 2000, and

October 16, 2000, the researcher elicited data through ethnographic participant field

interviews, field notes, and collection of secondary data.

Data collection was conducted through on farm interviews of a total of forty-seven

households nationwide. Households were selected to represent a variety of economic

categories, a variety of compositions, and households receiving each of the possible

inputs distributed through the 1999/2000 starter pack program. A questionnaire was

utilized to gather household specific information regarding farming system activities,

livelihood activities, and activities related to the starter pack program. Information

regarding farming systems, livelihood systems, baseline production information,

additional relevant household or community information obtained during informal

interviews, utilization of field notes and collaboration with secondary data worked

together to provide household level data depicting the existing livelihood systems of

selected Malawian households.

Household level data was utilized to construct a linear program, or simulation of the

entire household livelihood system including activities, constraints, and opportunities.

Linear program data analysis allowed for simulation of households in order to understand

the likelihood of livelihood sustainability both with and without starter pack inputs.

Decision tree models were then used to weigh the decision-making factors of these

households. Decision tree analysis allowed for inclusion of social factors, risk, cultural


factors, preferences, and other unpredictable circumstances not foreseen by the linear

program analysis. Together, these tools allowed for an understanding of the potential of

the starter pack inputs as a tool to promote livelihood sustainability on both an ideal and

practical context. By doing so, this research will create the analytical tool with which to

understand the multiple dimensions in of the starter pack program within the systems of

Malawian smallholder households.


Theoretical Considerations in Data Collection and Analysis

In implementing the starter pack program, it was assumed that distribution of

inputs (particularly fertilizer) to smallholders for a five year period would help fill the

food gap and improve soil fertility enough to result in increased subsequent yield (Mann

1998). Distribution in 1999/2000 marked the second year of the starter pack program,

and the first year of the pilot voucher project. Although future plans are far from definite,

it is likely that the program will include plans to reduce the size of the target population

and the quantity of inputs. To effectively target this program, it is important to

understand the influence that distributed inputs have at the household level. Further,

understanding the perceived impact of this program can assist in understanding the

priorities of Malawian smallholders, and assist in future program development.

In planning, conducting, and evaluating research surrounding the starter pack

distribution, methodology and framework of both the Farming Systems Approach

(FSR/E) and the Sustainable Livelihoods (SL) approach are utilized here.

Farming Systems Approach

Farming systems methodology has not been a "top-down" approach where

information comes strictly from researchers, through extension agents, to farmers; rather

it is a method through which researchers and farmers have worked together to solve

problems (Hildebrand and Russell, 1996). "Farming systems research and extension

(FSR/E) is an approach to technology generation, evaluation, and delivery. It is applied,

farmer-oriented, agro-biological research, supported by the socioeconomic sciences in a

team effort that includes extension responsibilities" (Hildebrand and Poey, 1985 p. ix).

Farming systems research and extension often utilizes participatory methods in order to

best understand the systems existent to the client, or farmer. Participatory methods

consist of open ended interviews, farmer trials, farmer analysis of trial results, mapping

and modeling, matrix scoring and ranking, seasonal calendars, and other approaches that

help researchers understand farmers and their systems (Chambers, 1997). Farming

systems research thus utilizes a bottom up approach in order to understand the household

objectives and constraints as perceived by the farmer.

Farming Systems Research and Extension has generally focused on limited

resource smallholder farmers who would be categorized in the poorest stratification of the

population (Hildebrand and Russell, 1996; Bembridge, 1986). Diversity further exists

within farmers categorized into this poorest stratification (Chambers, 1997). Chambers

(1997) further noted that there is diversity within communities and villages, based on age,

gender, ethnic group, and income level.

Farming Systems Within Livelihood Systems: The Sustainable Livelihoods

One outgrowth of the farming systems approach was the sustainable livelihoods

(SL) approach that originated with the thinking of Robert Chambers during the mid-

1980s as a bottom-up, multidisciplinary, multidimensional approach to the treatment of

poverty (Chambers 1997). Poverty was not seen as unidimensional, nor was it attributed

to a lack of adequate income. Instead it was seen as the reflection of multidimensional

vulnerability to sudden shocks (droughts, devaluations) as well as longer-term stressors

(decreases in maize yields, increases in input prices). Increased attention was placed on

vulnerable households' assets and resources which make it easier for farmers to invent

and use indigenous livelihood strategies intended to cope with these sudden shocks and

stresses and even sustain their livelihood systems (Chambers, 1997). The sustainable

livelihoods approach is described as:

perhaps the clearest formulation of this bottom up, decentralized, democratic and
at heart relativistic approach to development. In a sustainable livelihoods
approach, development and aid help the poor ensure that their own ways of
making a living (livelihood systems) remain viable and remunerative in response
to context-specific changes in the bio-physical, economic, political and cultural
environments in which local farming, gathering, hunting, fishing and
handicraft/artisinal systems are embedded. (University of Florida Soils CRSP,
2000 p. 3)

The sustainable livelihoods framework exhibits a prioritized focus on how the

poor manage their assets to sustain their livelihoods and cope with the shocks and stresses

facing them. As a bottom up approach, the SL framework emphasizes assisting resource

poor households according to their own priorities, opportunities, and available resources

prior to developing resource and technology innovations. The aim of the framework is to

help the poor design productive programs so that they become stakeholders in the

development process and thus become empowered.

Conceptually, livelihood systems are comprised of the livelihood activities in

which the poor engage in order to make their living. A livelihood is "considered

sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, maintain or

enhance its capabilities and assets and provide sustainable livelihoods at the local and

global levels in the long and short tern" (DFID, Sustainable Livelihoods Guidance

Sheets, 2000 p. 3).

As an important part of the design process, the sustainable livelihoods

framework attempts to understand the structure of an existing system in order to identify

appropriate entry points for livelihood supporting activities while considering that these

systems of the poor do not necessarily function within a simple linear manner. The

sustainable livelihoods approach involves a people first approach that can be utilized in

project planning, research methodology, and program implementation. It seeks to re-

orient the development process away from top-down, technocratically planned

interventions, in favor of finding ways for donors to enhance already-existing modes of

making a living and systems for managing human and natural resources (Gladwin, 2000).

Understanding and differentiating between livelihood systems and livelihood strategies is

therefore of great importance to the sustainable livelihood approach. The particular

strategies and activities employed by households represent choices made from all options

and activities available to a household. These selected activities are considered

livelihood strategies and the entirety of options available to a household constitute the

livelihood system. Within a livelihood system, a variety of strategies are available, and

the sustainable livelihoods approach works to understand some of the decision-making

criteria households utilize in order to select such livelihood strategies from an entire

livelihood system.

Following is a description of the livelihood system developed by a southern

Malawian household. Within the Makina household, the primary and secondary

livelihood activities can be observed, along with the non-linear structure of strategies

employed to improve food security for the Makina household. Further, both the primary

and secondary livelihood activities the Makinas employ can be considered, particularly

those dependent upon the specific opportunities, obstacles, and networks available to

each member of the Makina household.

The Livelihood System of the Makina Household
The livelihood system of the Makina household is based on the
primary livelihood activity of subsistence farming. The Makinas
have quite a large plot of land for a household in the southern
region; approximately two acres, and a small dimba garden directly
outside their brick home. Cecilia, age 28, her husband Rafael,
and Precious, age 10, are responsible for farming all household
land. During the 1999/2000 season, the Makinas did not hire any
additional labor, or 'ganyu', however children within the Makina
household did partake in ganyu labor.

Cecilia Makinas dimba includes seasonal rotations of mustard
leaves, cabbage, cowpeas, tomatoes, onions, pumpkins and of
course maize. Most of the maize produced in the dimba is eaten
fresh rather than processed. Cecilia intercropped bananas and
sugarcane, both utilized predominately for small scale sale,
around the entire border of the dimba. Inside, she has a
combination of cowpeas and maize, with small plots of land
devoted to numerous pulses. These are all used predominately
for home consumption, sale within the village, and sale at
Luchenza trading center, located approximately eleven kilometers
away. Crops produced in the dimba are usually grown with
saved seed and occasional purchases. Cecilia purchased mustard
January 2000, for example, costing MK20.00 (USD $0.40). This
allowed her to plant approximately five square feet of mustard,
which was sold for 0.50 tambala per three leaves. The Makinas
two acres of land consists almost predominately of maize and
cassava, with scattered cowpeas. Within these two acres, the
Makinas rotate a plot of fallow land, because of household labor
constraints. The remainder of the Makinas' land is scattered with
mango and some banana trees. The nearest mill for grinding
maize is approximately a three-kilometer walk away. Cecilia usually
her daughter, Precious, with a small sum of money to the
mill as necessary for grinding. Vegetables and other crops
Cecilia decides to sell are sold in the trading center of Luchenza.
This trip consists either of an initial three- kilometer walk to the main
road, where transport can be obtained for around MK20 or takes
approximately three hours to walk. Cecilia collects wood
approximately once per week, and chops the wood at home as
necessary. Cecilia and Precious cook and clean. Similarly, the
two obtain water from a well located less than 400 meters away.

The livelihood systems of rural farmers in Malawi, like that of the Makina family

are complex; considering the multiple sources utilized to access food, inputs, and income.

Sources of capital and social capital extend through boundaries of formal sectors, and

include numerous livelihood strategies functioning within the informal sector.

The sustainable livelihoods approach encourages consideration of a wide range of

factors as they shape and influence livelihoods with the attempt to provide long term

impact on subsections of a livelihood system. The non-linear approach serves to

highlight the complexity of the actual system without constructing a static portrait of

such. DFID's sustainable livelihood approach specifies nine related concepts that will be

described here. These concepts build upon one another to assist planners in

understanding a variety of aspects of the household livelihood system.

Capital and assets

Capital and assets are identified within sustainable livelihoods in order to assist in

creation of a proper understanding of how the poor can manage to cope with sudden

shocks and long-term stressors. Capital and assets are considered the building blocks of

livelihood systems; and include natural resources, social ties, human skills, physical

infrastructure, and financial opportunities.

Coping and adaptive strategies

Coping and adaptive strategies are indigenous strategies developed by resource

poor farmers. The importance of differentiating the two kinds of strategies lies in

determining the need for understanding long term versus short-term situations and

changes, and the need for appropriate and desired assistance. Coping strategies are

considered short-term responses to shock, such as drought or devaluation. Adaptive

strategies are considered long-term strategic adaptations to long-term and gradual

stresses, such as increases in fertilizer prices or interest rates, or changes in geographic

landscape. When alterations in farming systems or shifts in primary or secondary

livelihood activities are employed, it is assumed that the household's ultimate goals are to

enhance capacities to make a living based on the objectives of conserving household

resources (land, labor, cash) in order to reduce the risk of exposure to these very same

shocks and stresses. Livelihood activities are often divided into primary, secondary, and

tertiary activities, all employed to reduce chronic food insecurity. Assets necessary to

modify coping or adaptive strategies through changes in primary, secondary, or tertiary

livelihood activities are identified here.

Urban coping strategies in Malawi have been identified as including: renting out

houses on plots for plot owners, renting on a crowded plot to save money, moving to

squatter areas where rent is cheaper, building houses for rent in squatter areas, using

unprotected sources of water in order to save on water charges, walking to work, not

sending children to school, sending some children to live in rural areas, walking long

distances to collect firewood, collecting sawdust from sawmills, using maize husks, beer

cartons or any possible combustible items instead of wood, and lighting as few fires as

possible per day. (Roe & Chilowa, 1990). Similarly, rural coping strategies include

performing ganyu labor in exchange for food, eating wild tubers, eating additional greens

such as cassava or pumpkin leaves, eating unripe fruit such as mangoes, vending of

products, petty trading, beer brewing, selling firewood, grass, woven baskets, mats, clay

pots and even livestock. Research from Tkoka and Mvula cite Meuller-Glodde, 1998,

finding "Other less frequently mentioned coping mechanisms (one village) included

begging, women tie a cloth around the stomach to reduce the feeling of hunger, and

engagement in gambling" (Meuller-Glodde, 1998 p. 57).


Empowerment of the poor is the ultimate aim of the sustainable livelihoods

approach. Empowerment activities, in this context, are considered activities that can be

performed utilizing local resources and have the potential to enable problem solving by

the poor themselves to improve their own quality of life. Therefore, a development

project does not come into a region to distribute a new technology in a top down

approach; instead it should work to understand the livelihood systems of the poor in order

to empower them to change their livelihood strategies and outcomes.


Entitlements are considered the assets and income streams available to an

individual especially those that vary dependent upon an individuals position or status.

Resource availability is rarely equal, and entitlements include opportunities that, unlike

empowerment activities, are institutionally based.

Equity and inequity

An understanding of both equity and inequity issues is necessary to comprehend

options for individuals working towards improving livelihood systems. Although equity

and inequity are somewhat underemphasized within the sustainable livelihood theory,

potential categories include gender, class, generation, occupation, tribe, family, political

affiliation, or marital status, marital status within polygamous unions, or changing marital

status (e.g. divorced or widowed). Issues of inequity are crucial to understand livelihood

systems, as they constitute significant constraints to various individuals or groups.


Governance at the national and local level are crucial in understanding the

livelihood of a household, as well as the livelihood strategies approach. Naturally, the

success of a livelihood system is heavily influenced by political regulations at multiple

levels; such as reciprocity, shared norms and values, traditional leadership, trust, familial

ties, and institutionalized rules or regulations. Inclusion of such creates an understanding

of regulations and expectations placed upon individuals within a livelihood system.

Livelihood systems

Conceptually, livelihood systems are comprised of the assets and activities in

which the poor engage in order to make a living, and in Malawi's case reduce chronic

food insecurity. A livelihood "is considered sustainable when it can cope with and

recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, and

provide sustainable livelihoods at the local and global levels in the long and short term"

(DFID, Sustainable Livelihoods Guidance Sheets; 2000). Identifying and understanding

livelihood systems includes a cooperative understanding of the existing social and

political structures, as well as the households opportunities within those existing



A clear definition of resource poor rural households' level of poverty must be

defined in order to assess the sustainability within a livelihood system. Numerous criteria

are utilized world-wide in defining poverty, such as: percentage of underweight children

under the age of five; percent of adult women who are illiterate; percent of births

unattended by trained health workers (National Statistics Office, 2000), with further

differentiation according to direct and indirect measures of poverty determination. Area

specific recommendations result from understanding of such differences and

characterization of households or even particular regional areas begins with utilization of

such indicators in identifying relevant characteristics of economically impoverished



Resilience is defined as "a measure of a socio-ecological system's ability to

recover from shocks and stresses" (DFID, 1999 p. 3.6). Resilience is considered within

the ecological subsystem within which households operated, and is determined by the

ability of the poor to bounce back within the social subsystem. It is further determined

by the capacity of people and institutions to self-organize and design self-sustained

adaptations resulting from interactions between social, economic, and ecological systems.

Resilience further characterizes the ability of households to maintain their current status

of economic well-being.

The sustainable livelihoods approach and logical framework can be used to

design, manage, and evaluate projects and programs (DFID, 2000 p. 3.6). The SL

approach is used to construct a framework that is used throughout the project from the

design to the evaluation stage of a program. Construction of the framework through

livelihoods analysis (figure 2-1) results in the formation of a log frame to determine

subsets of issues. Additionally, participatory methods are widely used in all stages of the

SL approach; e.g., problem trees assist to express the emerging cause and effect

relationships. Each 'issue' identified by the participants themselves in a focus group

meeting is recorded, ranked in self-perceived hierarchy and finally, the causal

relationship is explored (figure 2-1).

High tLesock Losses Unrel abe Wter W Priabati on of Land Low Empbloment
-. .... .. I -- -j

Uncontroled disuses inadequate borehole maenance' Edtucalon u Few businesses

Poor Secrrae sInsuflacnunds Low each mor ale a Poo Tlaci e t No ecreds
Si r sources -

SInad te e seice Reslnlwr e No revenue Lor pay Inadequate lundisn
i deerpo ; Legisla~toni ; co ctn

IWeak borehole aulthonti i
Figure 2-1: Example of a Problem Tree
Source: DFID, 2000 p 3.6

Although cause and effect relationships are determined and a holistic picture of

the sustainable livelihood system is created, the sustainable livelihood approach does not

attempt to provide holistic solutions. Entry points are established in order to focus

attention on a sub-set of issues. Particularly, these entry points are useful in designing

safety net programs targeting a subsection of resource poor farmers. The strategies

implemented by households experiencing food insecurity may be short or long-term

strategies, and serve to create informal safety nets for many households. Illustrating the

various capital and assets, coping and adaptive strategies, and additional components as

defined by the SL approach, the Makina household is again utilized.

The Makina Household Livleihood System and Strategies
Cecilia Makina lives in the southern region of Malawi, in the
village of Chimwanga. Her husband Rafael moved from his
nearby village to Cecilia's home village of Chimwanga when
the two were wed, and together they have two living children.
Daughter Precious, aged ten, is a vital part of the Makina
livelihood system, while four month Chifundu is the newest
addition to the family. Two years ago, Cecilia lost a six-year
old son to an unknown sickness. The Makinas primary
livelihood activity is that of subsistence farming.
As the primary subsistence farmer working to complete
Production Activities within the household, Cecilia struggles
for enough time to handle her reproduction and production
activities. Ten-year old Precious attends school occasionally,
however her primary responsibilities lie in production as well.
She is also responsible for her share of cooking, cleaning,
transporting maize by foot to the mill and collecting water.
Precious also works as ganyu. labor in the village, earning the
household pails of maize. Four month old Chifundu, when he
reaches the age of around five, will begin assuming his share
of production activities as well.

The Makina household currently includes two goats and two
chickens who are not layers. Due to consistently decreasing
yields experienced by Cecilia and Rafael, coupled with the
addition of newborn Chifundu, two goats were sold in November
1999 to supplement household income. Similarly, two chickens
were eaten for special occasions in late 1999, and six chickens
were sold between August 1999 and August 2000. Prior to sale
of these chickens, Cecilia sold eggs for MK 2.00 per egg
(approximately USD $0.04). Cecilia does not plan to purchase
any additional chickens until at least 2001, due to the high
incidence of Newcastle Disease during the late months of the

Cecilia's secondary livelihood system involves her informal
employment in 'wooling.' Wool is brought to Cecilia, and she in
turn makes baby clothes and blankets. This income, according to
Cecilia, is most prevalent during 'baby season', but provides
income year-round

Theoretical Understanding of the Starter Pack Program in Malawi

Implementation of the starter pack program in Malawi resulted 2.86 million

farming households receiving some type of starter pack inputs.' But did it help the poor

develop enhance productivity and therefore hold potential as a tool to improve livelihood

sustainability? That is the important question addressed by this research. At a glance, the

starter pack distribution program was promulgated as a technology transfer program to

get farmers to start using fertilizer (Mann, 1998). However, farmers in Malawi have been

using fertilizer since the 1960s (Gladwin 1991). It can also be considered a political tool;

as the starter pack program was first implemented during the election year of 1998/1999

after both parties had, in the previous election, promised free fertilizer to win votes.

Additionally, the political leverage of the donor community can be observed, as they

evidently are wary of providing long term free inputs programs, however in essence cast

a political vote during implementation of their programs. The difficulty in defining the

application of the starter pack is further compounded by evident regional disparities and

distribution inconsistencies noted nationwide. Were these inconsistencies the result of

political stronghold regions, a result of disparities propagated by traditional authorities, or

simply the result of inadequate funds for equal distribution?

Defining the starter pack as a particular type of program (safety net, free input,

etc.) has thus become extremely difficult, particularly due to the unique nature of the

program. Significant ambiguity surrounds the implementation of this program, leaving

room for questions regarding the actual purpose of the program; was it a political tool, a

free input program, a safety net program, or technology transfer? Even if the productivity

'Starter pack inputs include either packs of two kilograms hybrid maize seed, ten kilograms 23:21:0+4s,
five kilograms urea, two kilograms either groundnut or soybeans seed; a voucher redeemable for such
packs, or a voucher redeemable for goods valuing Malawi Kwacha 450.00.

of some smallholders increased due to the starter pack program, the initial political,

social, and agricultural motivations created great confusion to farmers and administrators

regarding precisely what the starter pack program truly was.

We turn now to the potential of the starter pack program. This type of

agricultural input distribution appears to have great potential to become a successful

safety net program, with an appropriately targeted audience. Distributing starter packs to

a subsection of the population in order to reduce chronic food insecurity may be a

potential application for the starter pack program and the voucher program that have been

piloted thus far. The success of each of these programs, as perceived by the farmers, will

be evaluated here in order to understand the potential impact of the programs


What is a Safety Net?

Safety net programs function under the preliminary assumption that overall

sustainability depends upon increasing the resilience of the most marginal population

within a particular area. Safety net programs, as a type of social welfare program, target

marginalized populations expecting that granting entitlements to the poor will empower

these groups and result in subsequent sustainability. Both informal and formal safety nets

theoretically function to reduce chronic food insecurity within both rural and urban

households in Malawi.

Both formal and informal safety nets are tools to reduce chronic food insecurity

among smallholder Malawian households. Formal safety nets, functioning as welfare

programs or free input programs, are usually introduced as a short-term operation.

Informal safety nets, developed by regions, communities, villages, or households

themselves function to reduce chronic food insecurity, often through diversification of

capital, social capital, and informal networks of friends and neighbors sharing food.

These informal safety nets are usually developed by impoverished households themselves

over time as a resulting action to stresses, such as decreased yields, or developed out of

urgency as a result of immediate shocks to the livelihood system, such as droughts or

floods. Introduction of a successful formal safety net strategy happens only after the

informal safety nets whether ultimately constructive or destructive are deemed

lacking by the targeted population, or have disappeared entirely. Understanding informal

safety nets is crucial to implementing successful formal safety nets, if they are to be used

as complements and not substitutes for the informal networks already in place. This

understanding of existing formal and informal safety nets as well as their sustainability,

can be taken aboard in the development of a (formal) safety net program. (Tkoka &

Mvula; 1999).

Recent research in both rural and urban Malawi has explored the efficiency of

existing informal safety nets (Devereux, 1999; Gladwin et al. 1999), in large part to

determine appropriate formal safety net proposals. There is considerable evidence that

both rural and urban households find informal transfers of food, cash, and credit to be

decreasing in both frequency and effectiveness. Households adjusted to the shock of

devaluation of 1998, and stresses of increased fertilizer, oil, and credit prices by

increasing off-farm employment, informal employment (ganyu), gifts from relatives and

friends, food rationing, and withdrawing children from school (Devereux, 1999). The

informal transfers existing within Malawi have evolved through traditional systems, and

continue to evolve. There is evidence, for example, that ... informal transfers, either

between rich and poor or among the poor themselves, appear to be declining over time,

partly as a general consequence of commercialization and partly because deepening

poverty means that the economic basis for redistribution is contracting" (Devereux, 1999

p. 1).

Both formal and informal safety nets within Malawian society influence the

sustainability of the resource poor farmers. Informal safety nets are seen to be useful in

both rural and urban households, and often include transactions between these two.

However, the security and consistency of these informal safety nets is questioned in times

of extreme economic strain. "In a concern of deepening food insecurity and livelihood

vulnerability, this suggests a role for formal transfers to supplement the inadequate

incomes of the poor" (Devereux, 1999 p. 52). Only if a formal safety net program helps

the poor achieve sustainable livelihoods, can it function as an effective safety net. It will

not improve the sustainability of livelihood systems, however, if it only increases the

dependency of the poor on government handouts, and thus decreases their feelings of

empowerment. Designing a safety net program utilizing an understanding of the

vulnerability of resource poor farmers is therefore necessary. This should include

knowledge of the livelihood system, resources, and constraints faced by the household,

and the livelihood activities developed by the poor themselves to cope with shocks and

stresses they normally face. "Bearing in mind that the poor have been there for a long

time although the numbers are increasing, it is possible that the poor employ a number of

strategies to survive; both positive and negative. A safety net program can then possibly

take advantage of the positive strategies to devise ways of strengthening them" (Tkoka &

Mvula 1999).

Productivity enhancing safety nets (PES Nets)

Introduction of a formal safety net is often coupled with or enhanced by

introduction of a productivity enhancing safety net (PES net) (Devereux 1999; Gladwin

et al. 2001). In Malawi, where over 80% of the households are rural farming households,

increased agricultural production can be considered necessary in order to generate an

operative economy at the national level. Increased agricultural production is necessary in

order to improve the financial situation of both Malawians and Malawi. By introducing a

safety net that intends to increase agricultural productivity, rural households should

increase their household productivity and ability to be resilient, while at the same time

becoming more empowered.

Is the starter pack a safety net?

Resource poor farmers in rural Malawi have proven vulnerable to socio-political

influences resulting in chronic food insecurity within rural Malawi, particularly the

aforementioned recurrent devaluations of the Malawi Kwacha (MK), depleted soils

resulting in poor yields, collapse of the credit system, increased population, instability

within the tobacco market structure and regulations, imperfect markets, and insecure

health conditions, particularly as a result of chronic malnutrition and the frequency of

HIV/AIDS within Malawi. Given these influences, smallholder farmers are forced to

seek government, donor, and private assistance to overcome these shocks and stresses

In efforts to offset the high cost and risk of obtaining agricultural inputs,

particularly for resource-poor households, the Malawi Government responded with the

ambiguously defined starter pack program in 1998/1999; providing small amounts of free

agricultural inputs to allsmallholder farmers. The starter pack program implemented in

Malawi in 1998/1999 and 1999/2000 provided free agricultural seed and fertilizer with

the hopes of increasing productivity, both at the household and aggregate levels. By

enhancing productivity, this type of safety net holds the potential to empower households

to create and even maintain sustainable livelihoods. Due to the distribution of

productivity-increasing inputs within the program, the starter pack program could be

considered a prototype of a PES net program, with still ambiguous intentions. The

starter pack therefore cannot solely be entitled a safety net program, due to the ambiguity

of the ultimate goals of the program; for example were they political or socio-economic,

and were they aimed increasing national or household food security? Further, this

program was not designed as a safety net, as allsmallholder farmers were targeted. The

decision to include all smallholder households may have been the result of cultural

considerations, such as the assumed jealousy potentially arising from a targeted

distribution, or political considerations, such as politicians' claims to distribute free inputs

to households supporting particular political parties. Keeping in mind, however, that

"Malawi itself needs a safety net" (Mann, 1998), the starter pack was in fact presented

and implemented as some variation of a safety net program.

The Role of the Starter Pack Program in Food Security

Due to the instability of the Malawian agricultural system, rural households are

often lacking availability, stability, and access to basic foods, resulting in chronic food

insecurity. During the 1964-1994 Kamuzu Banda regime in Malawi, few were allowed

to question the extent of food insecure households or regions of the country. Malawi,

then, was assumed to be relatively food secure. The current situation in Malawi has

demonstrated that smallholders are particularly vulnerable to the variables of soil fertility

depletion, the removal of fertilizer subsidies, the collapse of the credit system, a recent

and constant devaluation of the Malawi Kwacha, land scarcity, alterations in market

structure, and changes in agricultural policy, and the social developments.

Levels of food security

Household food security implies different levels of security for various

households. In a study conducted in rural Zomba, households defined food security "by

giving characteristics of what they would consider a food secure household" (Tkoka &

Mvula, 1999). Some characteristics were prioritized only by men, some only by women,

and some by both. Often in Malawi, households with adequate maize supply are

considered food secure. Characteristics identified by households themselves, however,

included: the ability to buy and apply fertilizer, maintain healthy household members,

purchase household goods (from the local parastatal Agricultural Development and

Marketing Corporation, ADMARC), possess livestock, own or participate in ownership

of business, and finally the ability to cultivate additional fields.

The Committee on World Food Security defines food security as "physical and

economic access to adequate food for all household members, without undue risk of

losing such assess" (Thomson & Metz 1997). Intra-household dynamics at the

household, or even community level, further complicate creation of complete food

security at the individual level. National food security does not infer household food

security, as poor distribution of an adequate food supply at the national level may

constrain food security at the household level. Similarly, stresses such as increases in

price of food often affect the urban poor first, as it is these struggling households who

spend the greatest proportion of their income purchasing food.

Numerous countries or regions often boast national food security, or a food

surplus, while consecutively demonstrating a chronically food insecure population.

National food security is described as "a satisfactory balance between food demand and

food supply at reasonable prices" (Thomson & Metz 1999). The impact of the starter

pack program, however, may be evident at either the household or national level or

both. As in most input programs, design and implementation of the project ultimately

determine the subsequent impact.

The starter pack program, regardless of its lack of clarity, its objectives, or its

definition, aimed to narrow the food gap within smallholder Malawian households. Input

programs, whether safety nets, PES nets, free input, or technology programs, ultimately

aim to provide short-term strategies that empower resource poor households to create for

themselves long-term sustainable livelihood systems. But do they? This analysis

considers the implications of the starter pack program in relationship to the programs'

stated goals, not necessarily those of a safety net. Success, in this evaluation, will include

the success of the starter pack program as a tool in reducing the food gap and increasing

household food security. The importance of considering safety nets, however, lies in the

potential of this program to become a targeted inputs program, and ultimately a model

productivity enhancing safety (PES) net. The remainder of this research will address the

impact of the starter pack program on the sustainability of Malawian farming households,

along with its potential as such.


The Recent Situation of Smallholder Farmers in Malawi

To best understand actual and potential impact of the starter pack program, it is

necessary to explore the realities of Malawian smallholder farmers. The current situation

of these farming households results from aforementioned political, cultural, and historical

events, and is presently reflected in the existing systems both farming systems and

entire livelihood systems. Additionally, the opportunities and barriers including the role

of market forces, soil fertility, credit opportunities, and political realities, presented to

each household play a large role. It is these systems, opportunities, and barriers that have

led to the current situation; one of low production and subsequent food insecurity.

Farming Systems

Despite obvious variation among households, villages, or regions, there are some

universal attributes shared by many Malawian smallholder farmers. The main livelihood

activity nationwide is subsistence farming. Beyond this, there are agricultural differences

that are regionally specific due to climate, agricultural suitability, and preference. There

do exist some general trends, or farming characteristics, among the majority of

smallholder producers.

General characteristics of Malawian smallholder farmers.

Maize is by far the dominant crop of subsistence farmers. Minimal areas

substitute maize production with that of rice, which has decreased from 92,911 metric

tons during the 1998/1999 farming season to 72,300 metric tons during the1999/2000

farming season. "Remaining the staple crop, maize now occupies eighty-five percent of

smallholder cropland" (Benson et al., 1998; p 10). The Ministry of Agriculture and

Irrigation estimated smallholder maize production at 2.4 million metric tons in the

1998/1999 season and 2.5 million metric tons in the 1999/2000 season. Despite farmers'

complaints of diminishing yields, these numbers resulted in a national surplus of maize

during the 1999/2000 season. The predominant cropping activity consists of

intercropping maize with groundnuts or other legumes. Generally, common beans

(Phaseolus Vulgaris) are planted in the wetter parts of the country, and pigeon peas

(Cajanus Cajan) in the drier parts; particularly in the south. In some areas, cowpeas are

also utilized. Many households, particularly those with land scarcity, utilize dimba, or

moist gardens located near the house, to grow a variety of vegetables. Additional

consumption crops grown in regular or dimba land include groundnuts, cassava, pulses,

tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, chili peppers, pumpkins, bananas, sorghum, and


Cash crops are limited, but include sugarcane, cotton, tea, and the dominant cash

crop of tobacco. Types of tobacco grown in Malawi include Flue Cured, Burley,

Northern Division Dark Fired, Southern Dark Fired, Sun Air, and Oriental, with

smallholder farmers having increased production of burley tobacco in recent years.

Households commonly own chickens for production and sale, egg consumption

and sale, or as liquid assets used for funerals or other cultural events. Draft power is

limited, particularly in the south where land constraints are most severe. Due to this

limited use of animals within the farming system, organic fertilizer is resultingly scarce.

Those possessing draft animals may rent out oxcarts for transport to those who can afford

it. However, a majority of smallholder farmers do not have access to draft power.

Pigeons or guinea fowl are also a significant part of the farming system, especially

considering the comparatively low purchasing and maintenance cost of these animals.

Ownership of swine is minimal, although numerous programs are working towards

implementing animal husbandry programs geared particularly towards women.

Household distribution of land is varied, and both patrilineal and matrilineal

systems exist. Many adolescent children receive a small portion of land with which to

produce minimal household crops. In less densely populated areas, a married couple may

have land belonging to both the husband and wife, further differentiating labor

responsibilities. In areas of extremely high population density, one member of the

household may possess land in a home village and return to farm this land during

planting/harvest season.

Responsibilities of obtaining wood and water are predominately those of the

women and children within the household, with the exception of the excessive amounts

of water necessary for tobacco production. This task is usually shared among all

household members. Gender disaggregation within Malawian society is reflected by

agricultural roles, however it varies by ethnicity, land availability, availability of off-farm

employment, and even simply from household to household. Both men and women are

deeply involved in both production and processing, with some roles gender disaggregated

and some shared. Processing of maize, for example, is predominantly a female

responsibility, and transporting maize to the mill is usually the responsibility of women

or female children. The farming calendar throughout Malawi is directly a result of the

unimodal rainfall pattern and additional seasonal characteristics. The dry season in

Malawi begins in May and ends in October; while the rainy season endures from mid-

November until April (CIA, 1999). Most agricultural work occurs only during the rainy

season with the harvest arriving in April/May. The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation

stresses the importance of promoting crops to be grown in the dry season. However, with

the exception of dimbas, Malawi is dominated by a single growing season due to its

single rainfall pattern. In the dry season, usually in July or August, land is prepared by

burning crop residue and turning soil under. In September/October, ridges are made in

preparation for planting, which occurs after the first rains; usually in mid November.

Fertilizer use

Area-specific inorganic fertilizer recommendations for farmers were established by

Benson, 1997 and further revised in 2000 (Benson 2000). These recommendations

specified, by region, the amounts of fertilizer considered optimal for households

producing maize for both market sale and home consumption. Most smallholder farmers

in Malawi are currently utilizing lower rates of inorganic fertilizer than those

recommended. Benson states that although present fertilizer use on maize faces

difficulties, this use must increase in order to improve food insecurity (Benson; 2000).

These short-term difficulties include the lack of cash and credit available for fertilizer.

Selected input prices from the local retail outlet of Farmers World, from February 2000

are listed below (figure 3-1). Prices shown represent the item cost when purchased with

cash. Prices of fertilizer acquired with credit (not shown) are slightly higher than those of


Type Input Price in Malawi Kwacha (MK)
Urea (50 kg bag) MK 840.00
CAN (50 kg bag) MK 650.00
DAP (50 kg bag) MK 820.00
23:210 + 4s MK 780
Maize producer price (50 kg bag) MK 210.00
Maize consumer price (50 kg bag) MK 425.00 (drops to appx. MK 250.00
between August and February)
Figure 3-1: Farmers World Prices; February 2000
USD $1.00 = approximately MK 47.00

Farming calendar

The farming calendar throughout Malawi varies with region and crop (figures 3-2

through 3-6). As maize, groundnuts, and soybeans were included in the starter pack, the

farming calendar for these crops must be considered here. Planting maize, and pulses

intercropped with maize, occurs with the first rains, usually mid to late November. If

applicable, first fertilizer application occurs in December, and a second application in

January. Utilizing local maize, households usually begin eating fresh maize in March,

followed by harvest in May. Planners of the starter pack distribution intended that starter

packs be distributed in full by the end of November, allowing for timely planting. Some

households claimed, however, that inputs were received much later than this; with some

reports as late as January. For this reason, the time of input receipt in relationship to the

farming calendar must be considered as a decision-making criterion. During analysis

here the seasonal calendar will begin in July, when preparation for maize planting occurs.

The following seasonal calendars were elicited from thirty individuals in the

central region, reporting on tasks required on a monthly basis. Tasks performed in some

month's undoubtedly overlap; however these calendars serve as a general guide to

agricultural production activities.

Month Activity
July end of harvesting; selling;
transportation of market sold
maize finishes
August clear land (minimal households;
usually households devoted to
dimba at this time)

September completion of clearing land;
land preparation; some begin
row making
October row making
November planting (first rains); replanting
if necessary
December weeding; fertilizing (if
January weeding; fertilizing (if
applicable); some binding
February fresh maize consumption
March fresh maize consumption;
harvest early maturing varieties
April harvest dry maize
May stalking
June selling (may continue year
round dependent on yield)
Figure 3-2: Maize Calendar

Month Activity
July preparation
August nursery
September prepare beds
October prepare land; transplant
November monitoring
December monitoring
January First leaves ready; monitor
February First leaves ready; monitor
March Second leaves ready; harvest
April Binding;
May Binding; transporting
June Binding; transporting
Figure 3-3: Tobacco Calendar:

Month Activity
July harvesting
August harvesting
September clearing land
October ridging
November cutting and planting
December planting
January weeding
February banking
March weeding
April weeding
May checking for maturity
June harvesting
Figure 3-4: Cassava Calendar

Month Activity
July "waiting" for selling
August begin selling
September selling
October land clearing
November planting (with rains)
December weeding/begin binding
January binding
February monitor growth
March final stage; monitor
April ripe and ready; monitor
May begins to dry; monitor
June begin harvesting
Figure 3-5: Soybean Calendar

Month Activity
July digging groundnuts
August selling
September clearing the land
October row making
November planting
December weeding
January weeding; binding prep.
February binding
March leaves begin to grow
April wait for ripening; monitor
May monitor field
June begin digging for harvest
Figure 3-6: Groundnut Calendar

Livelihood systems

Livelihood systems of smallholder farmers naturally revolve around the primary

livelihood activity of subsistence farming. Regional variation does occur, as evident for

example in the strong reliance on subsistence fishing within households residing on the

eastern coast of Malawi, along Lake Malawi. The predominant secondary livelihood

activity is that of 'ganyu' or informal labor. Ganyu work generally consists of working

for other Malawian households on an unpredictable basis. Additional secondary

livelihood activities range from farming timber, charcoal, fisheries, to making and selling

bricks, baby clothes, furniture, or selling items resale or as shop owners. Similarly, there

is regional variation amongst secondary or even tertiary livelihood activities. It is the

combination of these primary, secondary, tertiary livelihood activities coupled with the

numerous adaptive and coping strategies adopted by smallholders that creates their

complete livelihood system (Scoones, 1998).

Livelihood strategies

Farmers' livelihood systems throughout the country are reflective of both cultural

tendencies and smallholders' efficient use of natural resources. Throughout the country

there are a number.of shared adaptive livelihood strategies. Such strategies have evolved

from farmers' reactions to long-term shock or stress and are currently an integral part of

traditional livelihood systems nationwide. These strategies are not short-term solutions,

rather strategies that have been woven into modern Malawian culture. Such strategies

include ownership of cattle, chickens, and guinea fowl as liquid assets to be sold in times

of food insecurity, participation in ganyu labor (earning cash or maize), urban migration

in search of jobs, trading of vegetables produced in dimbas, informal networks of

rural/urban codependency and participation in organized projects (i.e. field assistant

monitored seed multiplication projects, animal husbandry project; donor intervention

projects).' Short term coping strategies common throughout Malawi include, but are not

limited to planting of quickly maturing maize in order to harvest maize in February,

utilization of handouts from NGO's, churches, donors, and government, sharing of maize

during the hungry season (November March), and theft of crops.

The southern region. In the southern region, of Malawi, "the past decade has

been one of considerable change but many of the strategies employed continue to prove

effective. The main changes seen throughout the southern region of Zomba, for example,

include the spread of burley tobacco growing, an influx of traders at harvest times, an

increase in the scale and intensity of crop trading among local traders and farmers, and a

perceptible growth in trading centers and local markets. Persistent patterns include the

diversification of agricultural production and of income strategies, the signal importance

of maize production in households at all levels of wealth, and the skewed distribution of

income" (Peters, et al. 1995)

The central region. Both smallholder and estate farmers throughout the central

region of Malawi grow a considerable amount of tobacco. Within the central region,

livelihood strategies among the population of smallholders may exhibit some

homogeneity. Unfortunately, the tobacco market has provided less than consistent

opportunities to smallholders, perhaps creating a variety of coping strategies.

The northern region. In the northern region coping strategies tend to include

utilization of timber forests, selling of charcoal, and crop diversification. This area has

1 Ganyu labor is informal on farm labor employment within villages, usually paid in the form of cash or
maize, beer, or other commodities.

been exposed to shifts in deforestation, reforestation, and charcoal policy. This region is

also less densely populated, eliminating many pressures associated with land scarcity.

Market Opportunities for the Smallholder Farmer

Market forces have changed enormously since the late 1980s, the period of so-

called 'market liberalization' in Malawi. The impact of this force includes both obstacles

and potential solutions to increase the productivity of smallholders. The potential of the

starter pack program on increasing food security is subject to these types of forces. An

understanding of the changes in the markets, particularly for maize, tobacco, and

additional consumption crops, is in order. Long-term solutions are dependent upon

Malawians producing successful and sound adaptive strategies, rather than coping

strategies, able to remain in operation within the formal existing structure.

Market liberalization, occurring predominately in 1994, has subjected Malawian

smallholders to a variety of new systems and forced changes in agricultural production

goals. At the time of starter pack distribution, prices of all crops, with the exception of

maize, had been completely liberalized. Markets apart from maize, particularly for the

dominant cash crop of tobacco, are extremely inconsistent and therefore greatly limit

farmers' ability to utilize cash crops. The arrival of the multiparty political system

introduced a free market as well as a system reliant on private traders. The maize price-

band system is operated by the government, with the intention of eliminating extreme

price variation resulting from differences in agricultural productivity, seasonal

availability, or regional availability. The market opportunities available toe smallholders

influence the strategies used by smallholders. A selection of common markets available

to farmers, both formal and informal, is described here.


The Malawi government presently operates the maize price band system. The

price band system has four objectives:

1. To encourage use of purchased farm inputs by assuring farmers a market
for their maize at harvest time at an assured producer floor price;
2. To protect consumers of maize by releasing maize from the Strategic
Grain Reserve (SGR) into the market at a target ceiling price to assure that
maize is available at reasonable prices;
3. To provide enough scope between the floor and ceiling prices so that
private traders can profitably buy maize at harvest time and store it
properly for sale in the hungry season;
4. To operate the band system in a way that facilitates maximum opportunity
for the private sector to participate in government purchase and sale

Maize produced by subsistence farmers is utilized predominately at the village

level, but some also finds its way into urban markets. Household production of maize is

generally consumed within producing households, or shared among family members in

rural areas (excluding times of extreme hunger). Market prices of maize vary with

location and month (Appendices A B). The 2000 year was marked with a national

maize surplus, and little variation in the prices of purchasing maize.


Serving as the largest, and in some areas the sole cash crop produced, the

importance of tobacco cannot be overlooked. Subsistence farmers currently involved in

tobacco production have recently been subjected to numerous changes within the tobacco

market structure, stunting the economic growth for the smallholder tobacco farmer. This

is of great importance, particularly among farmers within the central region, which, due

to climate and close proximity to trading centers, contains a considerable number of

smallholder tobacco farmers. Predominately, smallholder maize production is that of

burley tobacco (Appendix C).

Prior to 1997, the tobacco market within Malawi functioned largely in part due to

the success of the 'Phantom Train' which operated between Salima and Lilongwe. This

railway system allowed operators to bring tobacco directly to the auction floor in

Lilongwe. Through an agreement with the tobacco auctioneer of Auction Holdings,

Malawi Railways, and the farmers, tobacco produced by smallholders was transported

directly to the auction floors. Auction Holding took a proportion of the earnings, as did

Malawi Railways, leaving the farmer with a somewhat predictable income. Use of the

railway system allowed tobacco to be transported to Lilongwe in a timely manner; an

important consideration when dealing with a delicate product like tobacco leaves.

In 1998, Mozambique purchased all shares of the 'Phantom Train', eliminating

efficient transport of tobacco to the auction floors. The Tobacco Association of Malawi

(TAMA), a parastatal organization, proposed an alternative strategy, employing local

companies to transport tobacco by truck. In efforts to reduce congestion on the auction

floors, this arrangement did not permit trucks with less than five tons to approach

Auction Holdings. TAMA established depots nationwide, in order for smallholder

farmers to drop tobacco. The parastatal organization TAMA then hired local transporters

to deliver tobacco to Auction Holdings. The transporter charged TAMA a per bale rate,

and in turn farmers were charged established rates per bale. Due to the transition from

railway to vehicle, long delays occurred in transporting tobacco from depots to the

auction floors. The result of this delay was reduced earnings for smallholders, due to

decreasing tobacco quality during prolonged transportation. Susceptibility to loss and

spoilage grew, and in May 1999 a new alternative, the intermediate buying system, was


The intermediate buying system for tobacco has been subjected to great criticism

from local entrepreneurs and questioned by.the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation due

to the inadequate returns experienced during the first year of existence. Under the

intermediate buying system, the 1999/2000 tobacco industry profits were substantially

diminished. The minimized income generated from Malawi's largest export cash crop

sector co-occurred with the most recent devaluation of the Malawi Kwacha and further

decreases in tobacco production quality and profits are expected in upcoming years.

Under the intermediate buying system operating during the 1999/2000 farming season,

buyers hoping to bring tobacco to the auction floors paid non-refundable registration fees

of MK1500 as a payment committing the 'farmer' to producing a specified amount of at

least 2000 kilograms (twenty bales) of tobacco.2 With this, the Malawi Government

would presumably be able to accurately predict estimated national production and

therefore function competitively within the world market. Farmers committing to

purchase are generally those who were previously large-scale producers. Many of these

producers found it more profitable to decrease their own planting of tobacco and simply

purchase and transport tobacco from smallholders to Auction Holdings, where tobacco

companies purchased tobacco in US dollars. Auction Holdings then deducted

withholding taxes, handling charges, and loan repayment where applicable and paid the

'farmer.' Finally, these intermediate buyers would return the farmers' share to

smallholder farmers.

2 Most farmers who register are those who were previously large-scale producers. With the introduction of
intermediate buying, many of these farmers have reduced their own farming, and participate simply in
purchasing tobacco from smallholders and selling on the auction floors.

Smallholders selling tobacco to intermediate buyers were usually given a time-

period when these buyers would return with the smallholders' share of profit. Many

smallholder tobacco farmers interviewed during the course of this study surrendered their

tobacco in May and were anticipating payment somewhere between August and October.

(Generally, smallholders should receive payments shortly after auction floors close,

which in 2000 occurred on August 18). Due to possible congestion, transportation

breakdown, spoilage, unknown withholding taxes subtracted by Auction Holdings, and

unforeseen prices on the auction floors resulting from varying grades of Burley (the most

commonly grown smallholder tobacco), Flue Cured, Northern Division Dark Fired,

Southern Dark Fired, Sun Air, and Oriental Tobacco, the economic return per kilogram

was generally unknown during pre-season. Prices imposed by the transporter were not

fixed, and rates were usually established based upon distance to market, size of bale,

number of total bales, and individual. Smallholders were at best provided with a rough

yet unconfirmed estimate of the payment to be returned.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation has considering providing an

alternative to the 1999/2000 intermediate buying system due to the failed economic

returns. The stability of tobacco as a smallholder cash crop is questionable due to the

unknown nature of the system to be in effect in upcoming seasons.

The smallholder role in tobacco production is extremely important on a national

scale, however does not necessarily prove equally vital as a source of household support.

Burley tobacco is by far the most common tobacco produced by subsistence farmers

throughout Malawi. Prices on the auction floor for R11, the highest grade of burley

tobacco, reached up to USD $1.90 per kilogram (price paid by Limbe Leaf to Auction

Holdings) in 1999/2000. The income actually earned by the farmer following this

transaction varies greatly and exhibited little consistency. Considering the nearly annual

changes in the formal tobacco market structure, the tobacco market presently holds little

reliability as a predominant income-generating activity.

Additional crops

Additional significant crops produced within Malawi include groundnuts, pigeon

peas, beans, cassava, tomatoes and other vegetables, sorghum, and sugarcane, just to

name a few. Many more food sources, such as bananas and mangoes are cultivated.

These crops are used for home consumption, trade within or between villages, and with

the opening of the market have become available for sale at local markets. There is little

price regulation or government incentive for producing such crops, however, they do

serve as a crucial component of most households' diets.

Fertilizer Incentive Programs

Several programs in recent years have attempted to "introduce" farmers to

inorganic fertilizer with the hope.that farmers will consequently continue utilizing

inorganic fertilizer in order to increase yields. It is relevant, however, that smallholder

farmers have been utilizing fertilizer since the 1960s (Gladwin; 1991). Current programs,

then, are best considered according to their ability to actually provide smallholder

farmers with inorganic fertilizer, or increased access to such. A few existing programs

are explored below.

1. A promotional ADMARC program in 1999/2000 allowed farmers purchasing 1

kilogram of 23:21:0 +4s to receive 1 kilogram of free burley tobacco seed. Purchasing

more than 1 kilogram did not necessarily result in receiving greater amounts of free

burley tobacco seed. There was no repayment necessary upon utilizing the program.

2. On a larger scale, the starter pack program distributed 5 kilograms urea and 10

kilograms of 23:21:0+4s (along with 2 kilograms of either groundnuts or soybeans and 2

kilograms hybrid maize) to 2.86 million farming families during the 1998/1999 and

1999/2000 farming season. The inputs provided were aimed to provide each recipient

with adequate maize supply for 0.1 hectares of land. The objectives were: a) to help fill

the food gap; b) to promote crop diversification; and c) to promote the concept of soil

fertility improvement (Clark, 1999). The starter packs are credited as being a major

contributor to the national maize surplus in the year 2000. The Ministry of Agriculture &

Irrigation had plans to downscale the distribution by 40% for the 2000/2001 season.

Targeted households were to be selected by the communities themselves, with widows,

female headed households, the elderly, and self identified resource poor households being

considered priorities. Packs will also include a reduced amount of maize and fertilizer.

3. In early 2000, ADMARC markets began selling fertilizer in 1 kg, 2 kg, 5 kg, and 10 kg

increments. This was done in order to accommodate farmers who are unable to purchase

large amounts of costly fertilizer. Prices are directly correspondent with dividing a 50 kg

bag of fertilizer into the desired allocation.

Organic fertilizer is of minimal use by smallholder farmers in Malawi. Land

constraints in Malawi, particularly in the southern region, appear to be a major constraint

to utilizing organic nitrogen sources to improve crop yields (UF Soils CRSP, 2000).

Improved fallow systems have been adopted in Eastern Zambia; however they have had

limited success in Malawi (UF Soils CRSP, 2000). The difference was likely due to the

higher population density in Malawi (UF Soils CRSP, 2000). With limited land, the

decision to place some land into fallow or an alley crop would take food away from the

household, and smallholders would not be able to afford this. Further, if farmers did

plant legumes such as pigeon peas, they consumed the peas instead of turning the whole

plant under as a green manure (Uttaro, 1998). Additional reasons for minimal use of

organic fertilizer include: a) lack of ownership of animals; b) lack of money to pay for

transport of animal manure; c) lack of labor for compost or similar exercises. Farmers

who do have access to animal manure tend to use the majority on land close to the home

(usually dimba land) in order to avoid cost, or additional labor, of transport.

Current credit opportunities

The collapse of the credit system in 1994 has left smallholder farmers asking for

increased access to fertilizer. Some existing (and previously existing) credit

organizations lack the ability to monitor recipients, and therefore have created a trend of

non-repayment. Limited credit opportunities are, however, available. Below are some

examples, not exhaustive, of credit options available to farmers.

FINCA. Providing credit to groups of women (20-30 individuals) who, ideally,

are already operating a business, FINCA has been operating in Malawi since 1995.

Currently there are approximately 547 village banking groups utilizing FINCA. FINCA

provides a group loan, operating on the idea of group guarantee, paid back over a period

of sixteen weeks. Groups are selected by village members themselves and are not

monitored in any form by FINCA. Although restricted to women, the lack of a

monitoring system has left these loans open to both males and females. FINCA provides

each member with an individual check, at a fixed rate of 16%. Repayment begins the

first week after initial payment receipt. There is a non-fixed group interest fee as well

that varies with groups (example: receipt of a MK 5000 loan in the southern region

results in a one time group interest fee of MK 400.) FINCA prides itself as holding a

98% repayment rate among current members.

ADMARC. Credit programs offered by ADMARC are somewhat restricted.

Additionally, there is a lack of trust of ADMARC markets among many smallholder

farmers; decreasing the number of farmers who apply for ADMARC credit. Credit

opportunities through ADMARC include: a) the Productivity Investment Program (APP)

funded by the European Union; b) the Maize Contract Program (implemented in 1998 for

large-scale maize production and both small and large-scale tobacco production) funded

through ADMARC; and c) the Tobacco Growers Program, funded through ADMARC.

With this, ADMARC hoped to provide inputs to farmers with large amounts of land

(greater than five hectares) and subsequently purchase the product from these farmers.

The majority of ADMARC credit programs operate with 20% interest requiring payment

after harvest, and for programs like the Maize contract program, ADMARC "shall at its

sole discretion select suitable commercial farmers to participate in the program" (section

4.1 of contract for Maize Contract Program; ADMARC). Due to the subsequent drop in

producer prices of maize, farmers have not been satisfied with the results of many of

these programs.

Malawian Political Influence

The influence of political structure affects the decisions and opportunities of

smallholder households at the village, regional, and national level. It is first important to

understand the historical trends of the relationship between national policy and the role of

agriculture in order to further explore impacts at the household level.

Banda's agricultural policy (1964-1994)

Dr. Kamuzu Banda's regime consisted of a single party rule. Only a brief

discussion of his leadership as relevant to agricultural development is included here.

Most observers agree that democratic freedoms were suppressed; yet Banda promoted

agriculture and the intensification of subsistence crops, not cash crops, on smallholder

farms. Smallholder farmers were not allowed to produce burley tobacco; the export crop

reserved for large farms constituting the "estate" sector in Malawi. This restriction

encouraged a bipolar distribution of land size with many smallholdings owned by the

poor and a small number of large flourishing farms in the "estate" sector (Lele 1990).

Banda prioritized development of both infrastructure and agriculture. Banda's

contribution was marked by construction of numerous roads, draining of marshlands and

development of fishing (Virmani, 1992). The Situational Analysis of Poverty, a

document produced by Banda's Malawi Congress Party in 1993, identified lack of credit

facilities, lack of land, inadequate infrastructure, and weak institutional structures as

being crucial in contributing to the perpetuation of rural poverty (Lwanda, 1999 p. 20-


During this time, the formal market structure continued to cater predominately to

large estates and foreign investment. Banda "discarded the principles of Pan-Africanism

in order that the atmosphere for investment from the West may be kept clear" (Lwanda,

1999 p. 20). Banda's emphasis on international cash crop exportation relied almost

predominately on tobacco and sugar. The one-party government promotion of estate

agriculture in order to maximize exports, particularly of tobacco and sugar, is a subject

that has been dealt with comprehensively elsewhere (Pryor 1990; Mhone 1992)). In the

last four years (1988-1992) there has been some switch to maize and rice as these two

crops became more profitable, particularly in neighboring countries, in the famine ridden

middle nineties" (Lwanda, 1999 p. 34).

Muluzi's agricultural policy (1994-present)

The arrival of the multiparty system in Malawi brought additional shifts in

governmental agricultural priorities. Smallholders were permitted to participate in

production of burley tobacco with the hopes of rural development and alternative income

sources for small farmers were introduced. It was also during these years that additional

pressures such as population, soil fertility depletion, and land scarcity worsened.

The long-term results of many of these alterations, such as market liberalization

remain to be seen. However, the short-term results have resulted in an alteration of

farming or livelihood systems for the rural poor. In research conducted in two villages in

Malawi in 1999, 51.9% of the 104 households interviewed said they had changed their

cropping pattern that particular year (Tsoka and Mvula, 1999). It is unclear whether such

changes reflect coping strategies or adaptive strategies; it is clear, however, that new

shocks and stresses are resulting in new livelihood outcomes.

The Starter Pack and Voucher Programs

It is within this context of enormous changes in product and input markets

during the decade of the 1990s that we can understand the rationale for the starter pack

program. The program began under the assumption that by distributing appropriate

modern technologies to smallholders (in the form of inorganic fertilizer, maize seed, and

legumes), Malawi's food insecure households would experience an increase in annual

yields, improved soil fertility, sustainable livelihoods, and ultimately improved food

security. However, as stated in chapter two, the program's aims were questionable and

its objectives were ambiguous. Was it a safety net program or simply a technology -

transfer scheme or just another free-inputs program?

Implementation of the Starter Pack Program

The starter pack targeted all farming households in Malawi during both the

1998/1999 and 1999/2000 planting seasons excluding the 36,000 estate holders in

Malawi (defined as estate holders having cash income from tobacco).3 The objectives of

the starter pack distribution in 1999/2000 were: "a) to assist fill the food gap; b) to

promote crop diversification; and c) to promote the concept of soil fertility improvement"

(Clark et al., February 2000). Packs were to be distributed to every smallholder-farming

household throughout the country. Program coordinators included relatively better off

smallholders, or those with more than two hectares of available land. It was assumed that

doing so would add "only 12% to the program (while) the cost of excluding them

(would) omit from the program many of the most promising farmers, community leaders,

and innovative elements" (Mann, 1998). Further, it was assumed that inclusion of these

farmers would reduce leakage from resource poor to resource wealthy farmers. The

Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation reported distribution to farming households

resulted in a total audience of 2.53 million in 1998/1999 and 2.86 million in 1999/2000.

3 Definition of 'household' was characterized by residence, not 'hearthold'. This created a bit of confusion
among many extended families and polygamous households.

Starter pack contents

Contents of the starter pack were intended to allow households to plant 0.1

hectare of land. Limiting contents to a production unit of 0.1 hectare was expected to

minimize the perception of the starter pack as a "free inputs" program. Initially intended

contents for 1999/2000 starter packs included 10 kilograms of 23:21:0+4s, 5 kilograms

urea, 2 kilograms of hybrid maize seed, and 2 kilograms groundnuts. 4

Maize and fertilizer were included to increase household food production.

Groundnuts were included to improve soil fertility, due to the declining soil organic

matter levels in Malawi. Benson (1999) reviewed research measuring soil organic matter

comparing data between Blantyre, Kasungu, and Lilongwe agricultural development

divisions. Tests sampled the top 15 cm of soil, and found decreasing soil organic matter

(Benson, 1999), confirming the need for a soil fertility-enhancing program. Similarly,

fertilizer recommendations established by Bensons research provided the foundation for

the included amounts of urea and 23:21:0+4s.

Acquiring inputs

The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation provided open opportunity for

suppliers to place bids on costs of providing inputs. Following this, initial suppliers were

selected from the proposed bidders. It is unclear as to the particular criteria utilized in

selecting these suppliers. In some cases, the decision was not based solely on financial

competition, as some suppliers with comparatively low costs were not selected.

Ultimately, the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation determined the final selection of

suppliers as follows.

4 Karonga ADD received limited distribution of rice instead of maize. No households in Karonga ADD are
included in this study.

Input Supplier 1: Supplier 2: Supplier 3:

23:21:0+4s Norsk Hydro RAB (3000 Farmers World
(6000 metric metric tons) (18000 metric
tons) tons)

Urea Farmers World n/a n/a
(6000 metric
Hybrid Maize Pannar Farmers World n/a
(4132.81 metric (1552 metric
tons) tons)
Groundnuts based on local n/a n/a
availability _
Figure 3-7: Initially Designated Inputs and Suppliers for 1999/2000 Starter Packs

At the time of pack assembly two important changes occurred. First, it became

evident that, due to loss and spillage, additional maize was necessary for distributing

inputs to the entire target population. Hybrid maize was not available at this time, so

OPV maize was donated by PROSCAP. Second, inadequate crop predictions resulted in

inadequate groundnut supply. Additional groundnuts were purchased, and some packs

were reassembled with soybeans (figure 3-8).

Efforts to provide worthwhile inputs in a timely manner resulted in the existence

of a variety of starter packs. The collaboration of organizations involved in pack

assembly and distribution resulted in packs passing through the hands of many

individuals (assemblers, re-assemblers, distributors, retailers, non-governmental

organizations) before reaching targeted household. This left much room for error and

theft. Registered households were not able to anticipate receipt of a starter pack,

timeframe of starter pack delivery or contents of a starter pack.

Input Supplier 1: Supplier 2: Supplier 3: Comments
23:21:0+4s Norsk Hydro RAB (3000 Farmers
(6000 metric metric tons) World (18000
tons) metric tons)
Urea Farmers World n/a n/a
(6000 metric
Hybrid Mz Pannar Farmers World PROSCARP
(4132.81 metric (1552 metric (17.7 metric
tons) tons) tons OPV)
Groundnuts Unknown ADMARC n/a Inadequate supply
(1000 metric prompted inclusion of
tons) purchased soybeans
by government
Soybeans Farmers World Transglobe Zimbabwe *decision to use
(500 metric (400 metric (2000 metric soybeans resulted in
tons) purchased tons) purchased tons) IFAD the costly exercise of
by government by government purchased repackingg' a number
S____rof packs
Figure 3-8: Actual Inputs and Suppliers for 1999/2000 Starter Packs

Limitations in transportation equipment, for example, resulted in distribution

vehicles beginning in the southern region of the country, then moving to the central

region, and finally to the northern region. Logistical difficulties also occurred due to the

hiring of additional laborers to drive vehicles, often resulting in theft of part or all of the

starter packs. The importance in these logistical difficulties lies with the consequent

confusion regarding content of starter packs. Finally, logistical difficulties based simply

on the need to reduce the size of the target population after starter pack registration

occurred (due to MoAI perceived over-registration), resulted in various methods of

eliminating households and consequent insecurity among registered households. There

was often great confusion surrounding recipient status, as evident from one registered

woman in the northern region: "Since I received a starter pack last year, I don't think I'm

supposed to receive one this year."5 This household, in fact, was not issued a starter pack

during the 1999/2000 season; however did receive one as a gift from a family member of

another village, who, though not registered, received one starter pack.

Political.context of starter pack program

In order for starter packs to successfully function as a safety net allowing a

technology trial experiment to be carried out by the farmers, and avoid being considered

a free input program, political affiliation was to be omitted from the starter pack program.

Unfortunately, registration for receipt of a starter pack was carried out in late May 1999,

just a few weeks before a national election. Households may have assumed the starter

pack registration exercise was a political exercise, or an attempt to sway the voting

population. Perhaps because of this, representation of the number of farming households

may have been somewhat inaccurate.

Description of Starter Pack Voucher Trial

The 1999/2000 starter pack program included a pilot project designed to distribute

inputs to up to 50,000 households through vouchers redeemable at private-sector retail

outlets rather than receipt of traditional input packs. Selected registered households did

not receive traditional starter packs, rather vouchers to be redeemed at local retailers. On

49,000 of these vouchers, the words "Starter Pack Voucher" were printed. Such vouchers

were redeemable at local trading center retailers for only starter packs. On the remaining

1,000 vouchers, the words "Flexi voucher" were printed, along with a star symbol in

order to accommodate illiterate recipients. These limited flexi vouchers were redeemable

at local trading centers for goods valued up to K450.00 (figure 3-9) or a traditional starter

pack. 6 Local retailers providing either packs for vouchers or goods for vouchers varied

5 Female villager from the southern region of Malawi.


with region, but included various combinations of stores including ADMARC, Farmers

World, PTC, McConnell, and Chipiku. The logistical operation of the pilot voucher

project was handled by the Department for International Development (DFID), and the

project itself designed by DFID consultants Paul Harnett and Elizabeth Cromwell

(Overseas Development Institute). A previously designed document entitled "Design for

a Pilot Voucher Scheme for Starter Pack II" was followed in designing the utilized


Malawi Kwacha per USD$1.00 During Starter Pack
1999/2000 Distribution and Redemption
2 47.00
-a 44.50
D 0 o OM a, 0 0 0
0) M0 0) 0) 0) 0 0 0
a)0) 0 0 0) 0) 0 0 0
S 4 0 0 -4-Malawi
Kwacha/ $1.00
Date USD
Figure 3-9: Rate of Malawi Kwacha During Starter Pack Distribution and Redemption

The purpose of the starter pack voucher pilot project was to "test the capability of

the national retail chains to transport, store and distribute packs to recipients, and to

examine the various modalities of distribution" (Killick et al., February 2000). At each

of the three selected test sites, number of distributing outlets, timing of voucher

distribution, and method of transporting of starter packs to retail outlets was tested.

Implementation of the starter pack voucher and the flexi voucher provided

numerous additional benefits. The starter pack voucher allowed for potential assessment

6 Redemption of vouchers was between November 28 and December 2, at which time USD 1.00 was
equivilant to between 46 and 47 Malawi Kwacha.

of cost effectiveness when utilizing a voucher system for distribution, the impact a

voucher system can have on fraud related activities, and the impact a voucher system can

have on efficiency of distribution. Inclusion of flexi vouchers allowed for potential

assessment of the priorities of smallholder farmers identified by smallholder farmers

themselves, the impact flexi voucher redemption may have on local retailers, and the

financial and social effectiveness of utilizing flexi vouchers to encourage fertilizer use.

The hierarchy within Malawi's department of agriculture influenced selection of

villages to receive both starter pack vouchers and flexi vouchers. The designation

process included.many aspects of the ministry of agriculture, from large to small

divisions of the agricultural force.

Understanding selection of voucher pilot project areas

Villages in the southern, central, and northern regions of the country were

selected to participate in the pilot voucher project. Selection utilized both geographic and

population criteria. Selection of general regions to receive vouchers was reportedly

based on proximity (< 10 kilometers) to a trading/voucher redemption center and village

size. Selection of households within 10 kilometers of trading centers was intended to

reduce household redemption related costs, while selecting villages of similar size to the

number of vouchers to be distributed was intended to simplify delivery of vouchers to


Attempts were made to universally distribute solely one of the two types of

vouchers within a single village.7 Selection resulted in villages surrounding the southern

7 This was not the case in at least one village, Sesse II. Located in the central region, the village received
inadequate distribution of flexi vouchers during initial distribution. Distributors returned a second day,
with starter pack vouchers, in an attempt to provide all registered households with a voucher.

trading center of Luchenza, the central trading center of Mponela, and the northern

trading center of Mzimba.

The starter pack logistics unit aimed to distribute a nationwide total of 49,000

starter pack vouchers and 1,000 flexi vouchers. Target figures were set at distribution of

20,000 vouchers in the southern region, 20,000 in the central region, and 10,000 in the

less densely populated northern region. Final selection resulted in a target population

including 19,026 households in the southern region, 16,717 households in the central

region, 6,203 households in the less densely populated northern region (total 41,496).

Actual recipients of vouchers are as follows:

South Central North Total
Intended SPV 18,626" 9 16,3171' 6003 40,946
Actual SPV 18,565 16,069" 573612 40,370
Intended FV 400 400 2001 1000
Actual FV 356 412 198 966
Recipients: ____ _
Figure 3-10: Reported Receipt of Starter Pack Voucher (SPV) & Flexi voucher (FV)
Source: Final Report: Implementation of Starter pack Scheme 1999/2000 SPLU;
February 2000

The southern region of Luchenza. Blantyre ADD sought to distribute vouchers

near the trading center of Luchenza. Luchenza town itself lies on the junction of three

rural development projects; Thyolo, Mulanje, and Shire Highlands. The Ministry of

8 Number based on total registered families in selected EPA's (19,026) minus 400 flexi voucher recipients.
9 Each of five retailers received 4000 packs + excess of 5% (4200 total) Making surplus 1000. 2000 packs
picked up in surplus by Funeral & Relief Fund
16,317 families registered in the selected EPA, Mponela; however 400 should have received flexi
vouchers; leaving a remaining 15,917 to be recipients of SP vouchers. World Vision actually distributed
16,481 vouchers (surplus of 164) 12 of the 164 surplus were flexi voucher making the total of actual SP
vouchers distributed in surplus by 152 (16,069).
" SP Final report shows 16,081; not 16,069
12 Wezi Girls (distributor in Northern region) distributed 5936 vouchers total; 200 of which were flexi
vouchers in Peter Ndawandawa. Total SP voucher target = 5936 200 = 5736
13 Northern Malawi is comparatively less densely populated.

Agriculture and Irrigation opted not to include Shire Highlands in the voucher trial.

Within the two remaining rural development projects, selected subsections -known as

extension planning areas- were chosen based on proximity to the town of Luchenza,

where recipients were required to travel for voucher redemption. Within Thyolo RDP,

two EPAs of Khonjeni and Matapwata were selected. Within Mulanje RDP, two EPAs

of Thuchila and Msikawanjala were selected. In total, this included 19,026 registered

households. The southern region involved complex organization in designating villages

to receive vouchers. This complication was primarily because the town of Luchenza lies

on the border of two RDPs, resulting in increased difficulty in geographic division. All

households to receive vouchers were intended to be within 10 kilometers of central

Luchenza town, although some households were up to at least 12 kilometers away (figure


The central region of Mponela. Kasungu ADD initially designated areas

surrounding the small town of Dowa to receive vouchers, however due to the low

population of farm households in this region the staff was forced to reselect. Choosing to

work with the Dowa West RDP, the representatives from the Ministry of Agricultural of

Irrigation selected the entire Mponela EPA. Field assistants and staff at Dowa West RDP

were extremely helpful in allowing for increased understanding of the selected area due

to their strong organization and involvement in the area. Selection of the entire Mponela

EPA was expected to simplify the distribution exercise. This included 16,317 registered

farm families in 229 villages. Mponela EPA lies within 10 kilometers of Mponela

trading center, easing the burden of travel distance on recipients (figure 3-12).

The northern region of Mzimba. Near Mzuzu, staff at the Mzuzu ADD

cooperated with those at the Central Mzimba RDP in selecting the entire area of

Kazomba EPA. This selection was made based on the fact that Mzimba town, the largest

town and trading center within the area, lies within this particular EPA. Unfortunately, it

was overlooked that Kazomba EPA is extremely long and narrow, and therefore not all

voucher recipients were within 10 kilometers of Mzimba town and trading center. Some

voucher recipients were required to travel up to 40 kilometers in order to redeem

vouchers (figure 3-13).14

Starter pack and voucher project operation

To conduct distribution and redemption of voucher inputs, project coordinators

utilized various mechanisms to create fluid distribution. Selected criteria are included

here; as these criteria are prioritized by both the Malawi starter pack logistics unit

(responsible for distribution) and this research.

Number of distributing outlets. At the southern region pilot location of

Luchenza, five retail outlets were involved in voucher redemption. This equated to

approximately 1000 packs being collected from each outlet on each of four days. At the

central region pilot location of Mponela only one retail outlet was selected, equating to

about 4000 packs per day being collected from the outlet on each of four days. Finally,

in the northern pilot location of Mzimba one retail outlet was again selected. Due to the

decreased number of packs distributed in the northern region, this equated to distribution

of approximately 1500 packs on each of four days.

14 Since the time of voucher distribution, some villages have been reallocated into previously existing
EPAs, and are therefore no longer part of Kazomba EPA.

Program Manager

Voucher recipient travels
to appropriate retail outlet
to redeem pack

Packs delivered to byMalawi Fertilizer Co. from Limbe (appx 40 km)
Pack Distribution:
Stores not required to arrange transport, but required to unload trucks.
Each store distributed 4000 (1000 over 4 days (received 5% extra for loss).
Packs collected & distributed by Funeral & Relief Fund.
Figure 3-11: Understanding Luchenza Voucher Distribution

RDP's: Thyolo & Mulanje
Time: November 7-12
NGO to distribute vouchers: World Vision
subcontracted Khonjeni EPA and Thuchila EPA
Voucher distribution: 18,965 of 19,026 registered

Program Manager: Mr Khonje

Wezi Girls Educational Foundation- selected to
distribute vouchers.
Voucher distrbtn: 5936/6003 rgstd families in RDP
RDP's: Kazomba
Time: November 28-Dec 1

Kazomba RDP

Wezi Girls EF:
Kazomba EPA
WGEF not normally active in Mzimba; as it is
Mzuzu based; however utilized FA's successfully

Mzimba Section

Total Villages: 1 Peter Ndawandawa

Villagers travel to
Redeem vouchers

Chipiku received 6300 packs

Packs transported from Kanengo to Mzimba by Chipiku

Pack Distribution:
Chipiku stores solely responsible for transport. Transported 6300 on time
Surplus pick up not effective; packs fell to Mzuzu ADD (WGEF)

Figure 3-12: Understanding Mzimba Voucher Distribution

Program Manager: Mr Khonje

Wezi Girls Educational Foundation- selected to
distribute vouchers.
Voucher distrbtn: 5936/6003 rgstd families in RDP
RDP's: Kazomba
Time: November 28-Dec 1

Kazomba RDP

Wezi Girls EF:
Kazomba EPA
WGEF not normally active in Mzimba; as it is
Mzuzu based; however utilized FA's successfully

Mzimba Section

Total Villages: 1 Peter Ndawandawa

Villagers travel to
redeem vouchers

Chipiku received 6300 packs

Packs transported from Kanengo to Mzimba by Chipiku

Pack Distribution:
Chipiku stores solely responsible for transport. Transported 6300 on time
Surplus pick up not effective; packs fell to Mzuzu ADD (WGEF)

Figure 3-13: Understanding Mzimba Voucher Distribution

Timing of voucher distribution. At Luchenza, vouchers were to be completely

distributed to households immediately prior to the dates designated for redeeming inputs.

This would leave vouchers in the hands of the recipients for a maximum of five days. At

Mponela voucher distribution was planned to overlap pack collection by two days,

leaving vouchers with recipients for a maximum of three days. At Mzimba, recipients

were to collect their packs the day after receiving their vouchers, meaning households

were to have vouchers in hand for only one day. Coordinators planned this variation in

distribution in order to allow for future evaluation of alternative voucher use, such as

buying and selling, as related to the amount of time the vouchers were actually in the

hands of household members.

Registration processes. Registration for starter packs occurred in late May 1999.

Because this was only a few weeks before a national election, planners feared that

households affiliated this registration process within a political context. Starter pack

registration was carried out with the cooperation of staff from local rural development

projects, area field assistants, and village headmen. As the registration occurred

nationwide, all areas utilized available personnel and resources to complete registration in

a timely manner. This resulted in the existence of a variety registration processes.

Differences among villages, local political structure, and local agricultural staff further

exacerbated variations in registration processes. Many households were dissatisfied with

registration procedures. Various registration methods reported by households interviewed

in this research include great variety and include approaches in which:

1. Field Assistant (FA) registered households through meeting at central
village location while headman witnessed.
2. FA registered households through meeting at central village location
without headman present.

3. FA registered households by traveling door to door without headman.
4. FA registered households according to headman's recommendation.
5. FA conducted registration in company of political representative (by
traveling door to door).
6. FA not involved in registration process; headman or headman
representative registered households and reported to FA.
7. Headman registered households through meeting at central village
location; with no FA present.
8. Headman registered households by traveling door to door.
9. Headman registered households by sending selected representative
door to door.
10. Headman conducted registration in company of political
11. No registration process.
12. Registration records from 1998 utilized (either in place of 1999
registration, or after conducting 1999 registration).
13. Registration qualification dependent upon work program within
village (per headman).
14. No FA assigned to area at time of registration; villages either did not
register or headman utilized any previously described method.
15. Headman not involved in registration process; FA utilized any
previously described method.

Responsibility of distributing starter pack inputs to villagers. Traditional

starter pack distribution utilized the assistance of Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation

staff at all levels of government agricultural organizations, the Malawi Army, selected

retail outlets, and numerous non-governmental organizations. In short, the large task of

distribution was extremely cooperative. In some areas packs were distributed to villagers

at a central location, usually a school or community center. In other areas, household

members were responsible for obtaining starter packs from local retail outlets.

Transporting the packs was a difficult task, and required retail outlets, such as Farmers

World, to employ additional labor (e.g. truck drivers) and government assistance (e.g.

army trucks). Noteworthy but unsubstantiated complaints related to distributing packs to

villagers included:

1. Additional, part-time, labor hired by retail outlets led to increased
theft and sale of starter packs, or starter pack contents.
2. Utilization of additionally allocated vehicles was unevenly
distributed; with vehicles moving from southern to central to
northern regions upon completion of each. The stated result was an
untimely distribution in many regions.
3. The role of non-governmental organizations (NGO) in distribution
was often over emphasized, leading to transportation difficulties
within NGO's; again resulting in untimely distribution in some areas.
4. High number of networks necessary for distribution of bulky packs
led to increased opportunity for breakdown; perhaps resulting in
increased theft and sale of starter packs, or starter pack contents.
5. Due to organizational difficulties, a number of starter packs were
assembled and transported without any legume. The Ministry of
Agriculture allocated additional legumes (often requiring additional
packaging or additional transportation) to necessary ADDs. Area
dependent, some ADDs utilized their own labor for this second
distribution, while some requested assistance from the NGO assigned
to starter pack distribution in the designated area.15

Usually, members of a locally designated NGO traveled to the village, often

working in collaboration with local field assistants or village headmen in order to

distribute vouchers to registered households.

In correspondence with the seasonal calendar, the end of November 1999 was

identified as the target completion date for starter pack distribution. Actual completion

dates for distribution of starter packs is debatable. According to various non-

governmental organizations and farmers, smallholder farms had obtained all packs by

early January. Results from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MoAI) show all

packs distributed to recipients by the target date in late November.

Timeliness of starter pack vouchers and flexi vouchers was somewhat easier to

monitor, as recipients were granted only a roughly three-day duration in which to redeem

vouchers. Voucher recipients appear to have received vouchers by the targeted dates;

15 Zero respondents in this study reported receiving legumes at a later time. Zero respondents in this study
reported receiving a notice in their starter pack to receive legumes as a later time.

however, there were cases of retailers being inadequately stocked with packs or goods for

redemption thereby limiting voucher recipients' choices.

Responsibility of distributing starter packs to retailers. Voucher recipients, and in

some areas starter pack recipients, were required to travel to retail outlets in order to

receive inputs, making the task of adequately transporting goods to retailers extremely

important. Responsibilities differed somewhat by region, but were shared between staff

at various levels within the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (agriculture

development divisions, rural development projects, etc.), contracted NGOs, and retailers

(figures 3-11 through 3-13). Generally, selected stores received starter packs free of

charge, and were then responsible for appropriate storage and distribution.

At Luchenza the starter pack logistic coordinators assumed responsibility for

transporting packs to the retailers. This model simply tested the ability of retailers with

varying storage capacities to receive, unload, and store packs prior to distribution. At

Mponela, retailers were responsible for transporting the high volume of packs to outlets.

At Mzimba, retailers were responsible for transporting this smaller volume of packs to

outlet (Killick et al., February 2000).

Measures taken to ensure efficient voucher redemption. All vouchers

included appropriate redemption information printed directly on the front. This

information included valid redemption dates, redemption centerss, indication of the type

of voucher, and flexi vouchers included the amount of value (MK450.00). Security

measures were considered in organizing the redemption process for both starter pack and

flexi vouchers. In particular, the following four measures were taken to assist in effective


In each area, vouchers were color coded as a means to indicate the designated

redemption date. Particular color vouchers were redeemable only on particular dates, and

limited amounts of each color voucher were distributed regionally. Additionally,

recipients were to be reminded by headman, field assistant, or NGO that particular colors

were only redeemable on particular days.

Some distribution areas experienced confusion in designating an individual

responsible for instructing recipients of this color-coding system, and many villagers had

to make multiple trips to redeem their vouchers. Fortunately, retail outlets were

accommodating, and often stayed open additional days to accommodate those who were

unable to redeem vouchers because they arrived on the wrong date.

The second measure utilized to assist in functional voucher redemption was the

use of a serial number system. Each voucher was marked with a unique serial number.

This assisted in tracking vouchers and served as a tool reducing distribution center

crowds. In regions where more than one retail outlet redeemed vouchers, each outlet was

responsible for a different block of numbers, eliminating the potential problem of all

voucher holders attempting to redeem vouchers from the same retail center. In some

areas, households receiving vouchers believed this numeric verification system allowed

retailers to verify the registered voucher 'owner' with the individual redeeming the

voucher. Considering that selling vouchers was illegal, this may have decreased fraud

surrounding vouchers.

The third tool used to reduce error in distributing vouchers was a carbon copy

voucher. Vouchers consisted of three copies; two of which the household surrendered to

retail outlets to receive inputs. Retail outlets retained one copy for their own inventory,

and returned the second copy to the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MoAI) in

order for the ministry to total all redeemed vouchers. Each copy included a unique serial

number to decrease fraud. In some areas, duplicate copies were not properly attached

bound, and amidst large crowds at redemption centers villagers often obtained additional

packs by paired remaining receipts of different serial numbers.

Despite vast differences in coordination and implementation, the Makina

household provides a perspective of one starter pack experience.

The Makina Houseohid Starter Pack Experience

As residents of Chimwanga village in the southern region of Malawi, the
Makina household was selected to receive a flexi voucher. Registration
process was carried out by a local village chairman for the United
Democratic Front (UDF), and a representative from the Ministry of Health.
The two individuals registered households by traveling door to door. At
the time of registration, Cecilia's husband was not home, so Cecilia herself
registered. The flexi voucher was obtained from the village headman, in
the presence of a local NGO, at a central location only a couple of
kilometers from Cecilia's home. Cecilia felt lucky to have received a flexi
voucher over a starter pack as it guaranteed receipt of goods.

Members from the NGO present explained the "flexi" concept of receiving
either goods or a starter pack to recipients at this time. The color-coding
identification of the vouchers, which was intended to specify valid
redemption dates, was unfortunately not explained to recipients at this
time. The September 1999 passing of the Chimwanga field assistant left
the villagers without a field assistant during starter pack distribution. At
the designated redemption time, Cecilia was suffering from pregnancy
complications, so her husband traveled to redeem the voucher. Rafael
traveled to ADMARC, which he assumed would be the least congested
retail outlet. Unfortunately, Rafael was turned away because the voucher
he had was color -coded for a different day. Rafael's second trip to
ADMARC was equally unsuccessful, however on the third day he was
able to redeem the flexi voucher for a starter pack, as was the most
common choice within the southern region during the 1999/2000 voucher
trial. Cecilia says she opted to redeem hervoucher for a pack, rather
than goods, because she was in need of food. Similarly, she opted not to
sell her voucher or pack because her primary concern was food rather
than money. Despite these difficulties, Cecilia preferred the 1999/2000
distribution method to that occurring in 1998/1999.

Anticipating the Impact of the Starter Pack: Household Considerations

Agricultural production and subsequent household food security in Malawi have

proven vulnerable to recurrent devaluations of the Malawi Kwacha (MK), depleted soils

resulting in poor yields, collapse of the credit system, increased population (resulting in

land constraints and higher population densities), instability within the tobacco market

structure and regulations, imperfect markets, and insecure health conditions, particularly

as a result of chronic malnutrition and the frequency of HIV/AIDS within Malawi. These

obstacles led to a variety of options at the household level, upon receiving inputs. Based

upon the described systems existing among Malawian smallholders and the opportunities

and barriers presented to them, a variety of factors are considered in exploring the criteria

for utilizing starter pack inputs. For purposes here, factors potentially influencing

utilization of starter pack inputs are considered to be based upon financial considerations

- such as national economic considerations, access to credit, land availability, labor

availability; social considerations- such as regional distribution of ethnicity, regional

distribution of wealth, gender division, traditional cultures; and of course agricultural

considerations- such as suitability of starter pack inputs, soil fertility issues, and

correspondence of inputs with the farming calendar.

Financial Considerations Involved in Decision Making

National economic forces influencing availability of credit, prices of purchased

household items, and established prices of institutions purchasing from smallholders

(such as parastatals like ADMARC) impact the sustainability of a household. Household

decisions, such as the decision to utilize starter pack inputs in various manners, are

affected by the stability of such forces as well.


Devaluation of currency and inflation of goods

National economic forces, such as the devaluation of the Malawi Kwacha (MK)

have created extreme shocks and stresses to livelihood activities. During starter pack

distribution and voucher redemption, the Malawi Kwacha was at approximately MK

40.00 (figure 3-14 and 3-15). As the MK continuously devalued, little or no

correspondent increase in paid wages was in effect. Taxation on paid employees

throughout Malawi was reduced in 2000 from 38% to 35%; displaying little impact on

subsistence farmers. Similarly, no decrease in input cost or household items occurred.

Malawi Kwacha/ $1.00 USD
2 70
O 50
S60 .... -------------------


-- Malawi Kwacha/ $1.00 USD Date

Figure 3-14: Rate of Malawi Kwacha (MK) to US Dollar (USD) in January 1995 -
January 2001

August 1999
50 43"8-
35.6 *
40 35.6

30 -
20 I

8/20 8/21 8/22 8/23 8/24 8/25

Figure 3-15: Rate of Malawi Kwacha to US Dollar Prior to Starter Pack Distribution
Figure 3-15: Rate of Malawi Kwacha to US Dollar Prior to Starter Pack Distribution

Income distribution

Targeting economically stressed households in Malawi has historically been an

extremely difficult task. Criteria determining households in need of assistance are often

determined by a variety of criteria rather than utilizing consistent criteria to determine

trends. Additionally, the lack of research conducted during the Banda regime has given

Malawi only a few years to define the accurate economic status of smallholders. Finally,

the number of impoverished households is simply so high in Malawi that even that upon

clear identification of a population in both need and want of intervention, resources are

not necessarily available in adequate abundance.

Systematic identification of economically impoverished households from

previously conducted research is considered here according to three different units;

household consumption patterns, extension planning area comparisons (regional), and

self perceived indicators of wealth.

The Integrated Household Survey, conducted by the National Economic Council

(NEC) measured caloric and protein intake of households nationwide, providing results

signaling those households under severe economic stress. Comparisons among

households were intended to identify relative economically impoverished areas based on

household consumption patterns. Preliminary findings from NEC (August 16, 2000), for

example, show individual poverty headcount (%) to be comparatively high in the districts

of Mwanza, Ntcheu, Thyolo, and Phalombe.

Second, The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigations comparative evaluations of

food insecure areas according to extension planning areas, (EPA) on an annual basis are

utilized to consider food insecure households. Comparatively high food insecure areas in

Malawi during the 1998/1999 season include six EPA's within Kasungu agricultural

development division, five within Machinga agricultural development division, two

within Lilongwe agricultural development division, and one within the Salima

development division (Appendix D)

A third methodology of analyzing regional differences in income distribution is

through direct involvement of households themselves. Household members were asked

to compare signs of material wealth as potential wealth indicators. Communities

generally establish such indicators over time, and sub-cultural understanding of these

indicators often results in establishment of community hierarchy. Utilizing these

indicators can assist in classifying households into domains, allowing for further

comparison of decisions surrounding utilization of starter pack and voucher inputs.

Potential wealth indicators for households in the northern, central, and southern regions

of Malawi can include ownership of cattle, chickens, pigeons, guinea fowl, etc., outside

employment, household size, soil quality, access to fertilizer, access to credit, available

labor, ownership of a bicycle, ownership of a business, and health of household members.

Indicators denoted here include credit, availability of land, and available household labor.

Credit. The aforementioned credit situation of the Malawian smallholder farmer

is of relevance here. The desire for inorganic and organic fertilizer, increased access to

credit, and a stable market economy created the need or desire for some intervention

assistance. All recipients have traditionally, of course, been subjected to numerous

shocks and stresses that create unique situations, and in effect determine the effectiveness

of the inputs provided. Household members reported access to credit an indicator that

households were considered more food secure.

Available land. The amount of available land can seriously limit the amount of

food produced and the food security of a household. Similarly, the amount of land

available to a household can play a significant role in a household's decision to plant,

sell, trade, consume, or sell starter pack inputs. The amount and type of land allocated to

a particular household can be considered the result of a number of influences including

population density within a geographic region. The less densely populated northern

region, for example, exhibits greater (adequate) land allocation in the northern region,

which can in increase options surrounding utilization of the starter pack or voucher


Significantly densely populated areas exhibiting frustration created by land

constraints include the southern region, as well as villages or households located close to

urban centers, such as Blantyre (south), Lilongwe (central), and Mzuzu (north).

Remember that the starter pack voucher and flexi voucher areas selected by the Ministry

of Agriculture and Irrigation were geographically close to trading centers; the

significance of land constraints may be severe in utilization of inputs as intended by the

starter pack program. Other potential differences accounting for land distribution in a

particular area include: culture, relationship to village headman, accessibility of local

industry and off-farm employment, and political influence.

Results of land constraints can be devastating to production and soil fertility.

Land shortages appear to be the major constraint to using organic nitrogen sources to

improve crop yields (UF Soils CRSP, 1997). With limited land, putting some land into

fallow or an alley crop takes food away from the household, which small farmers cannot

afford. Further, if farmers did plant legumes such as pigeon peas, they consumed the

peas instead of turning the whole plant under as a green manure (Uttaro, 1998).

Labor constraints and household size. The Ministry of Agriculture and

Irrigation assumes an average of five persons per household in rural households.

According to the Statistical Booklet on Poverty (NEC, January 2000) the dependency

ratio, or "the ratio of total number of children under 15 years of age and people over 65

years to the number of adults in the economically productive ages of 15-64" is 1.3,

indicating a large dependent population.

Household size is important in understanding potential labor constraints and

variations in labor divisions. Female labor constraints can be considered a contributing

factor to the low yields experienced by women. Women may not have necessary time to

spend in their own gardens in order to produce higher yielding crops (Bembridge, 1987).

Financial Considerations of the Makina Household

Within the Makina household, the majority of household goods and school
related materials are purchased by Rafael with money earned from selling
dimba crops. Although Rafael is 'not very interested' in agriculture, he sells
crops at Luchenza trading center. The majority of crops are produced in
small quantities in Cecilia's dimba. Cecilia and Rafael have determined thai
bananas, mustard, and eggs earn Cecilia income. Though contents of the
starter pack are none that provide Cecilia with direct income, she utilized
the contents for production. Without access to fertilizer, the starter pack
was desirable; however the Makina household did not receive any yield
from starter pack maize. ADMARC's decision to begin selling fertilizer in 2
kg, 5kg, and 10 kg increments, with directly proportioned prices could
become an option for the Makina's.

Cecilia requires 75 kg of maize per month to feed her household, obtained
In large part from her own production and earned through her and Precious'
ganyu work. Additional maize is purchased by Rafael. Cecilia estimates
that Rafael spent a total of MK120.00 during 1999 on school related costs.
With the exception of transporting maize to the mill, paying for grinding, and
partial payment of draft power at harvest.16

16 During the 1999/2000 season no money was spent on hiring draft power for transport. However, in
previous years this was the responsibility of Cecilia Makina.