Unsung Heroes of Mulanje

Champions are not the ones who always win races; champions are the ones who get out and try – Simon Sinek

Down in Mulanje District in the Southern Region of Malawi, beautiful tunes could be heard from afar as a group of women sang with unmistaken enthusiasm. At first sight, one would say they are a group of dancers as they swayed and twisted their bodies to the rhythm of their serenading tunes.
Those were members of Tiyamike Cassava Processing Group, welcoming CAVA II,

Malawi project team during one of their end-user demonstrations in Mulanje.  
Tiyamike Cassava Processing Group, as their name suggests, is an association of cassava processors comprising of 137 members, of which 61 percent are women. The group was formed for the purposes of manure making, little wonder they were called ‘Tiyamike Green Belt.’
Due to their location, which is situated at Msikawanjala Extension Planning Area (EPA), one of the major cassava producing areas in Mulanje District in the Southern Region of Malawi, it was easy for the group to cultivate cassava in abundance.

At the onset of the group in 2009, the fortune of the farmers was gloomy. The dry cassava chips (popularly known as makaka), which they produced, was sold at very low prices. The Makaka was sold between MK10,000 and MK15,000 ($60 - $90) per ton, as revealed by Esther Juni, a member of the group.
The 57-year-old farmer added that, “Our experience was not good when we started because sales were bad. At that time, one kilogramme of makaka was sold forMK10 while the unsold was used to make fire for cooking. At that time, the main buyers of makaka were local traders who sold to biscuit companies in Blantyre at $150-$180 per ton. The farmers were unhappy because the demand was irregular and the prices extremely low.”
However, fortune smiled on Tiyamike Cassava Processing Group in 2009, when CAVA project started in Malawi. The Country Manager, Cassava: Adding Value for Africa, (CAVA II) Malawi, Mr Vito Sandifolo, revealed that the project targeted the group because there was a considerable amount of cassava grown within their area
He said, “Cassava was produced in considerable amounts in the district. CAVA motivated the group to start processing HQCF and supported them with a cassava grater and a hydraulic presser. A number of training sessions including HQCF processing, quality management, business management, group dynamics and marketing were also given to them.”
With CAVA’s intervention, “Life got better for everyone in Tiyamike,” Esther Juni, revealed. She went further to say, “CAVA motivated us to start producing High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF), they gave us machines. That year, we produced three and half tons of HQCF. In 2011, we produced four and half tons of HQCF. We also went for a demonstration in Blantyre where we got an award for promoting High Quality Cassava Flour.”
Within a short period of time, sales increased and rural end users started absorbing most of the HQCF processed by the group. Mrs Salome James a member of the group revealed, “CAVA trained us on how to use HQCF and wheat flour to make mandazi, scones and doughnuts. In 2010, we sold one kg of HQCF at MK80, the price increased to MK120 per kg in 2012. In 2013, the price went up to MK150 and since 2014, we have been selling HQCF at MK200 per kg.”
Encouraged by constant demand for HQCF from rural markets, many people became interested in becoming members of the group.
The success of Tiyamike Cassava Processing Group would make one wonder how such a feat was achieved, however, the Country Manager, CAVA II Malawi, Mr Vito Sandifolo, revealed: “Tiyamike was existing before CAVA came in. When we came in 2009, we conducted scoping studies and we discovered that the group was already formed.  We also found out that there was a lot of cassava within that area. At that time, cassava processing was a business for a very few people. The farmers could not even sell the makaka. Most of it was exchanged for salt and the farmers used the surplus as fuel to light fire to cook a few things.

“We saw the potential for getting excess cassava from the area and started building the capacity of the Tiyamike Cassava Processing Group to start HQCF production. Since then, we have been providing a number of services to them, including providing appropriate equipment. We have provided a number of business management trainings for the group including processing of HQCF, group dynamics and cooperative management. Now they are in the process of being registered as a cooperative. To our surprise and satisfaction, the group has been very influential. They have won several awards for promoting HQCF.”
When asked how the project has transformed her life, Esther Juni, a member of the co-operative revealed, “My life has improved since I started producing HQCF. I have bought my own motorcycle and my children are now going to school. My children were going to school but paying their fees was difficult but now paying their fees is easy. I hope I will do better. I am very satisfied with producing High Quality Cassava Flour.”
Following the success recorded by the Tiyamike Cassava Processing Group, the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) is now making plans to bring electricity to the Mulanje district of Malawi.
The group is now buying fresh roots from farmers at K25,000 (about $64/ton) processing into HQCF and selling at K240,000 (about $615) per ton to rural end users. This has motivated smallholder farmers in the district to plant more cassava for future sales to the cooperative.