Outgrowing the ‘smallholder’ tittle

Yohane Dokotala

If you met Yohane Dokotala on the road, you would simply ignore him, thinking he is just an ordinary man.

It is until you are introduced to him, you will then want to hear more about his life.

Now in his late 40s, Yohane hails from Chapata village, T/A Chadza, Lilongwe.

Yohane, who operates under the NASFAM umbrella through Mlodzenzi Association, joined the NASFAM family when it had just been formed, some 18 years ago, with the aim of benefiting from the tobacco transport program (which the tobacco department of the organisation provides to its members).

 Little did he know that more goodies were to follow as he had joined an organisation that exists to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. His family no longer relies on tobacco. He has diversified into livestock and other commercial crops.

With financial support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy, NASFAM works with more than 130, 000 smallholder farmers across of Malawi, developing their commercial capacity through farming business training, with the aim of improving their livelihood. 

“Since I joined NASFAM some years ago, it has changed my approach to farming because I now treat farming as my main business. The extension service they provide has sharpened my skills.

“With guidance from NASFAM field officers and government extension officers, I have diversified my farming from crops only to poultry and livestock”, said Yohane.

Explaining how he started poultry farming, Yohane said, “I started with about 80 layers some eight years ago. I had to start small because I had very little experience. Each time I have been increasing slowly such that the last batch was about 450 layers.   I chose layers because I found them to be more profitable. I benefit from both egg sales and chicken sales (when they stop laying eggs)”.

Off-Layers ready for sale

Yohane says most smallholder farmers avoid poultry farming due to high feed costs. He, however, reduces feed costs by producing feed locally. Most of the materials such as maize and soya come from his farm and he only has to buy some few additives.

His hard work and commitment to his farming business earned Yohane a dairy cow in 2010. Upon seeing his commitment to the farming business, he was identified as one of the farmers to receive a dairy cow from Bunda College of Agriculture (now called Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources – LUANAR). It was a pass-on program and as of now he has three cows of his own. He has also benefited from selling two bulls.

“I am now remaining with a bull, a cow and a heifer. The milk business is going on well. During lactation periods, I supply milk to teachers in surrounding schools almost on daily basis. By the end of the month I get some considerable amount of money for home use and other emergencies”, said Yohane.

Yohane's Dairy Cattle

In addition to cattle, he also owns 20 goats, and 18 hybrid pigs

The success in livestock has also improved his crop production. In 2017/18 season he allocated nine acres of land to maize, seven acres to ground nuts and 4 acres to soya.

He said: “I use the manure from the livestock and poultry to improve the soil fertility of my fields. As such, despite having this large piece of land, I use very little chemical fertilizers. The manure subsidises the fertilizer cost. Livestock, poultry and crop production support each other.

With such dedication to farming business, it was not surprising to hear Yohane Dokotala talking about investments in land and property.

“I have a few structures at Mitundu and another trading centre which bring in more than MK50, 000 every month from rentals. In addition, I have also bought land near a school where I want to construct a modest hostel which learners can be renting”, he added.

Yohane holds livestock and poultry farming highly. He says livestock and poultry provide a continuous flow of income and have been an ideal source of income over the years especially with the unreliable rains the country is experiencing in recent years.

“Apart from diseases, which equally attack crops, livestock farming is less risky. It is not directly affected by rainfall (at least for Malawi) and it is a reliable source of income throughout the year. If there is a financial need in the family, I simply turn to livestock and the family moves on,” concluded Yohane Dokotala.