Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, and most of the population live in rural areas. Tea is the country’s second biggest export crop and largest employer, with 50,000 people working in the sector.
Over 93% of tea is produced by privately-owned tea estates. The remainder is grown by around 23,000 small-scale farmers. Sukambizi Association Trust (SAT) is a farmer-led association of 12,771 smallholder tea farmers (70% women), organised into 23 blocks and representing 55% of smallholder tea farmers and 7% of tea production in Malawi.
With plots averaging 0.3 hectares, these farmers find it difficult to maximise yields, quality and therefore the price they can get for their tea. Climate change is creating additional pressure. In recent years, Malawi has seen a decrease in tea production because of rising temperatures and erratic rainfall, leading to regular floods and droughts. These climatic changes require tea farmers to adapt their practices; however, many lack information about appropriate, affordable and effective actions that can be taken.
Most smallholder tea farmers in Malawi are women due to matrilineal land inheritance laws. Research indicates a 28% gap in gender agricultural productivity due to unequal access to inputs, credits and extension services.
This gender bias prevents women from taking up leadership positions in associations like SAT, meaning that the issues that matter most to women such as reproductive health and children’s welfare are not prioritised.
Research shows that radio remains the most consumed and trusted source of information in Malawi.
Research from 2019 shows that radio remains the most consumed and trusted source of information in Malawi. This is particularly true for the southern districts, where poverty is widespread and almost 30% of women cannot read. This makes radio a powerful tool for disseminating knowledge and changing behaviours at scale.
This Farmers’ Voice Radio project will improve the knowledge, attitudes and practices relating to sustainable and quality tea production of smallholder tea farmers in Mulanje and Thyolo Districts. SAT, the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) and local radio stations will work together to produce and broadcast participatory radio programmes that will raise farmers’ voices—particularly those of women—and enable them to share and access the information they need to grow their incomes, increase their resilience to climate change and have greater control over their livelihoods.
Specifically, the Farmers’ Voice Radio programmes will target the following objectives:
- Objective 1: Improve farmers’ tea production and land management practices to increase quality and yields and therefore the tea income they earn.
- Objective 2: Support resilience to climate change by raising awareness of deforestation, promoting climate friendly farming practices and encouraging diversification.
- Objective 3: Challenge gender norms and empower women to take leadership roles whilst promoting economic resilience.
- Objective 4: Improve farmers’ knowledge of the tea market and strengthen their voice and influence within the Malawi tea sector.
We aim to reach 12,771 farmers and their households, as well as other farmers and workers in the region.
This will be achieved through a 10-month Farmers’ Voice Radio programme series, aired on a Chichewa language station, that will target the 12,771 members of SAT and their households, as well as other small scale tea farmers and workers in the region. The series will use the local seasonal calendar as a framework around which to plan programme content, with individual episodes focused on a range of relevant topics, broadcast at the most appropriate time of year.
The radio programme content will be generated by a Programme Reference Group (PRG), made up of 12 smallholder tea farmers, the majority of whom will be women, who will meet monthly in a central location to discuss the pre-agreed topics. These discussions will be recorded, edited into short programmes and broadcast, twice weekly, by the radio station partners (to be selected for their coverage and popularity in the target area).
Relevant and credible local resource people with expertise on the discussion topics will be invited to the PRG meetings and/or interviewed separately by the radio presenters to supplement and challenge information provided by the PRG members where necessary, and to answer listener questions (see below). They will also be asked to feed into the development of technical information sheets prepared for each topic, which radio presenters will use to guide the discussions.
To maximise the engagement of tea smallholders and workers beyond members of the Programme Reference Group, a Listener Feedback System will be established, inviting listeners to call in with questions and comments about what they have heard in the radio programmes. This feedback will be used to improve programme quality and relevance, and questions will be responded to by technical experts in subsequent episodes, creating a wider community conversation.
Communal Listening Sessions run by 28 Radio Champions (also selected SAT farmer membership) will be set up in certain communities, to enable those without a radio set at home to listen and engage in the radio programme content. Radio sets will be provided to the Champions if needed.
Annie, one of eight women farmers selected to feature in the radio programmes, said:
“Farmers are not making a profit because…they don’t take care of the fields properly. Input costs are also high and tea prices are low. [At the moment] information [about tea farming] is passed from agricultural extension workers to block leaders, who then pass it on to farmers. But there are too many farmers to one block. Resources are little and they are very stressed."
[The radio programmes] will help a lot to be able to disseminate the information far and wide. It’s also really important [that farmers can] ask questions and get feedback; none of the other radio programmes do this.” - Tea farmer, Annie
As mentioned above, women farmers make up 70% of SAT’s membership but they are underrepresented in leadership.
Annie continued, “[In the training workshop] we have been discussing things such as leadership and why women are not taking those positions in the tea industry. We are mostly women, but the positions are held by men.” Annie and her peers hope that having their voices on the radio will help to shift this balance."