Sometimes the passion to achieve change comes from outside an organisation; perhaps Nick Evans, interviewed below, and his colleague Wayne Hancock, who have independently been pushing for an integrated approach to developing Malawi’s macadamia sector, should be called “extra-preneurs”?!
In Malawi since: 2001 – here approximately 6 out of 10 years.
What do you do? How did you end up doing what you do? I provide technical support on tree crops to smallholders in Malawi and the region. I studied Natural Resource Management at Cranfield for my Masters degree and while there I met Andrew Emmott (now Twin Trading) and he introduced me to a volunteer scheme with SAFAD to plant trees in the Neno district of Malawi. I conducted a feasibility study for macadamia smallholders and from there moved into project management and fund raising for the work.
Why did you decide to try and develop a macadamia strategy for Malawi with your colleague Wayne Hancock? Developing a strategic plan for the industry was a logical step to progress of the work we have already done; it is a necessary piece of work to underpin a move forward at a critical time for the industry. The estate sector in Malawi has doubled the number of macadamia trees in the past 10 years, but now they have no more land to expand further. In the same period 300,000 trees have been planted by smallholders and these are now coming to maturity and will start to produce significantly higher volumes. The estates have the commercial knowhow and the smallholders will need to work with them to use their processing capacity.
Given both you and Wayne are independent it must be hard to keep finding funding for what you are doing – what are your thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of working this way? Being independent means you have no mandate in the same way that you would if you worked for a company, and also none of the support systems and networks. However, I think that you have a different way of interacting with partners – perhaps being able to work more closely with them as you have no “baggage” or other perceived agendas.
Being independent means that the motivation to do what we are doing is entirely our own – Wayne and I have seen the smallholder macadamia sector develop in Malawi and can see the potential that it has to grow. The ambition to help realise this potential and the interest we have in the work, e.g. the suitability mapping we have done and setting up co-operatives, are what have kept us pushing ahead. In an ideal world we could have done with an in-country partner who could influence at policy level and help communicate our vision.
What lessons have you drawn from your experiences with multiple donor funds? The most effective support is clearly that with long term commitment, particularly for a slow growing tree crop like macadamia. In this sense, the Scottish Government has been our most valuable partner as we have managed to win six consecutive years (two rounds of three years) of funding. That isn’t to say other donors haven't provided valuable support, but without this uninterrupted phase of funding it would have been difficult to get to where we are.
What role has private sector support played in your macadamia projects? Without the private sector involvement to prove the market and leverage fair trade buying, we probably would not have won any of our funding. The roles of Twin Trading in purchasing nuts and Liberation Foods on the sales and marketing side have been very effective to help promote the cause of the macadamia smallholders and set the commercial context.
Describe how you see “inclusive business” in the Malawian macadamia industry. There is a symbiotic relationship between the commercial farms and the smallholders; the smallholders need the processing facilities that the estates can offer and the estates will benefit from the increasing volumes of macadamia that will soon be produced by the nut association farmers and smaller farms. There has been an increase in communication between the two and we have been involved in facilitating smallholder visits to see what is involved in production so that they can understand what they are paying for. The estates also provide some technical assistance to the smallholder nut growers.
Have you seen the sector wide strategy approach work well/not well elsewhere? Other macadamia industries, Australia in particular, use strategic plans to provide a guiding framework to address larger and longer term challenges. This approach collects together a great deal of relevant information and promotes collaboration and cohesion in the industry.
What are the key lessons you have learnt about how best to facilitate smallholder agribusiness? The most effective way to achieve results is to work at scale from the start rather than spreading a project either geographically or over time. This in itself is cost effective as it reduces overheads such as travel. For macadamia we set up nurseries for 100,000s of trees rather than a few thousand here and there – this is essential for tree crops. This sort of approach is not the norm in Malawi and is one reason why Malawi Mangoes is an interesting and ground-breaking project here – they are starting up at a large scale.
The other key to success is to have focused farmer interactions at the start of a project for training and planning and then of course appropriate ongoing support and materials. I believe in learning from the approaches that estates use and adapting these to the smallholder context.
What are the major issues you think might prevent growth in the industry? Lack of cohesion within the industry and an inability to see the big picture. The macro economic conditions at present in Malawi are not conducive for long term planning nor achieving operational efficiencies. The National Export Strategy that is currently being developed does not present macadamia (or any tree crops) as a priority, which is clearly a blow for us as it will make it harder to access funding for our plans. I believe that macadamia is a highly suitable and profitable export crop for the country but unfortunately I think the nature of the economic situation in the country means that short term wins are being considered to be more important.
How has the support of BIF helped you? The BIF consultants helped facilitate a stakeholder workshop and this enabled Wayne and I to participate in the process more easily and remove some administrative burden. The workshop enabled us to fill some gaps and gave us a mandate to take the strategy work forward. Being able to discuss all these issues with key industry players strengthened the document and understanding between different sectors of the industry. The BIF team then provided an independent verification of the focus areas presented in the strategic plan and a formal review of the final document. I would also say that BIF involvement also gave us a more commercial focus, which is what we wanted, and connections to new contacts.
Taking the strategy forward will require significant investment – how do you expect to find this and how do you expect the private sector to contribute? The key elements we need to see are the setting up of the Macadamia Industry Committee, a benchmarking exercise to understand where the key technical issues lie, and support for the Macadamia Nut Farmer Association (HIMACUL) so that it can continue to operate and a fully budgeted plan for the rest of our recommended activities. I think that we should focus on in-country support as it is more appropriate and I will be continuing to speak to donors. We have had positive feedback on the proposed strategy from all stakeholders and now this needs to be translated into actions.
What is your vision for the sector in 10 years time? And where will you be? I would hope to see 25% more macadamia produced in Malawi, mainly from the smallholder sector, and the estate sector benefitting from improved management and greater productivity. I doubt that I will still be working in Malawi in ten years time – my work here should be done. I have been proud to see the farmer co-operatives that I have set up operating effectively and no longer requiring my assistance!
BIF would like to thank Nick for his time. For those wanting to know more, this diagram shows the macadamia value chain and further information on the industry in Malawi will be posted on the Malawi short projects page.