NASFAM is founded on the principles of collective action and is democratically governed by its members. The essence of democracy and ownership runs deep through the NASFAM system, and the NASFAM Constitution upholds these principles within parts of the organisation and its operations. The Constitution is reviewed and updated each year by the General Assembly.
The NASFAM structure is based on 10 to 20 individual farmers forming a Club. Clubs group together to form Action Committees, and these in turn form Associations. All of these entities are managed by Committees of democratically elected member farmers comprising a Chairperson, Treasurer and Secretary, as well as vice roles. The role of these Committees is to ensure effective, transparent and accountable management of their Club, Action Committee or Association. They are responsible for ensuring that the Constitution and By-Laws are upheld by members, that their operations and finances are managed effectively. They must ensure that the views and concerns of their members are fairly represented and that they endorse adoption of NASFAM programmes and policies.
At Association and Action Committee levels, NASFAM has introduced specialist sub-Committees whose roles are to promote and endorse initiatives from programmes such as Gender, HIV and AIDS, to Farming as a Business. These sub-Committees play an important part in mainstreaming such issues to the broader membership.
Associations are grouped together by geographical location under an Association Management Centre (AMC) which provides management and operational support to their affiliated Associations. The AMCs are governed by a Joint Committee or Union of representatives from affiliated Association Committees. Their operations are guided along the same constitutional principles and By-Laws as the Associations.
At the top of this governance hierarchy sit the NASFAM Board of Directors and General Assembly, who are responsible for overall organisational decision making and representation. The Board comprises 8 members who are elected by the General Assembly from Association Committees. The General Assembly meets annually at the NASFAM AGM, and is made up of three representatives from each Association, one of which will be the Association Chair and at least one of which must be a woman. The General Assembly is responsible for representing the views and concerns of their constituent members. They agree any proposed changes to the Constitution and approve any organisation wide policies and strategies, as well as approving the annual and 5 year strategic plans for NASFAM operations.
In additional to governance roles, members are also elected to positions of Internal Checkers at Associations, whose role is to provide an internal audit function to ensure sound financial and operational management. Being members themselves, Internal Checkers have a vested interest in ensuring that Association operations are viable and sustainable. Internal Checkers are also democratically elected.
The General Assembly, Board, Committees, and sub-Committees are made up of democratically elected members, with positions of office being for two year terms. No member can serve for more than two terms, preventing bias and abuse of power. With positions of office being for two years, their timing is staggered to prevent all members leaving at the same time and losing all skills and knowledge gained during their term of office. At least 50% of any Committee remains each year to retain continuity of knowledge and experience.
Within the challenges of the governance structure, also lie issues of gender participation. The role of women in Malawian society is traditionally overlooked, and women have little confidence or authority to participate in household or community decision making. NASFAM runs a programme to raise understanding of the roles that men and women can and should play, thus empowering women to feel more confident about participating in managing their homes and communities.
Facilitating a governance structure that embodies true democracy and gender equity requires continued commitment and investment of time and support to ensure optimum performance, transparency, accountability, representation and continuity.
The Solution – NASFAM Interventions
NASFAM is proud of its unique and successful democratic governance structure, and prioritises investment in ensuring that it is robust and truly representational.
- Strengthening Leadership and Governance Capacity: All governance entities in the NASFAM system experience turnover of leaders each year. While new holders of office can learn from the 50% of each Committee that remains each year, it is vital to ensure that all holders of office are educated on their roles and responsibilities. Given the importance of their representational roles, having members in office who are not clear of constitutional policies and By-Laws could have a detrimental impact on the operation of the NASFAM system. Therefore NASFAM delivers regular training and updates to the governance entities to ensure continued and genuine representation of membership.
- Equitable Gender Participation: As part of NASFAM’s programme to ensure gender equality and equity, efforts are made to ensure the representation of female members in the governance and operation of the system. Building on the groundwork being laid by awareness raising activities and the Gender sub-Committees promoting equal gender participation, NASFAM is able to encourage women to join as members, and stand for positions of office in Committees at all levels of the system. This is spearheaded by female role models, with 50% of the NASFAM Board being women, including the Chairperson.
- NASFAM Radio Programmes: NASFAM produces a twice-weekly 30 minute radio programme, aired nationwide on MBC1. This provides a channel for reaching members and the broader community with up to date information and advice on how to increase their social and economic productivity from smallholder farming, including improving their capacity for democratic governance of farmer groups.