NASFAM's roots go back to 1994, and lie in the USAID-funded Smallholder Agribusiness Development Project (SADP), implemented by Agricultural Cooperative Development International (ACDI/VOCA).
Until 1990, smallholder farmers were prohibited from cultivating certain high value crops, such as burley tobacco, which was restricted to the estate sector. This resulted in a skewed distribution of rural income. In response this, and to allow farmers to take advantage of market liberalization, the USAID-funded Smallholder Agribusiness Development Project (SADP) commenced in 1994. SADP supported smallholder agribusiness development by improving smallholder access to agricultural inputs and better returns on agricultural sales; supporting smallholder self-reliance and self-sufficiency through improved business know-how; and promoting collective action through commercially sound, farmer-owned associations.
Clubs to Associations
SADP (and now NASFAM) worked with rural farmer groups, or “clubs”, to develop commercially viable group businesses that are linked to farmer association structures through which smallholders realize increasing returns and contribute to economic development through group action. In its first year of operation, SADP transferred the technical know-how to operate successful businesses, and provided linkages to service providers designed to bring about improved and sustainable services to smallholder clubs. As the needs of their farmer members became more apparent, SADP supported smallholder clubs to take collective action to solve problems and to develop more structured associations of farmer clubs to acquire economy of size and collective power of voice. These associations gradually began to develop the capacity needed to carry out the technical services to farmer clubs previously made available through SADP's technical program.
Associations to National Organisation
Smallholder farmer clubs operate in a highly complex environment that has been in a process of continual change for the past decade. This complexity has brought both opportunities - in the form of greater competition and improved access to cash earnings from specialized crops - and hardships from greater uncertainty related to inflation, weakening of rural credit, unexpected currency movements, and high cost of transport. Smallholders working with SADP chose to respond to their changing environment through expanded farmer-controlled associations that could provide the marketing services and know-how needed by members to handle market and financial complexities. Having realised the benefits of collective action, in July 1997 fourteen such associations decided and voted to form their own mother body, managed and controlled directly by their membership, to expand this impact. The National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi (NASFAM) was thus formed and formally incorporated on February 11, 1998.
NASFAM Continues to Grow
Since it’s incorporation, NASFAM has transformed from being a group of individual associations into a cohesive institution capable of maximising the benefits of collective action at a higher level, as well as supporting smallholders to address their own problems through participation in the socio-economic development of Malawi.