The farmers in Malawi have long been holding on to the cultivation of tobacco - which led to a dangerous dependency. There are numerous alternatives.

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In Malawi, about 8.5 million people are affected by crop failures (c) Tristan Vostry

Project Name 

Green innovation centres for the agriculture and food sector programme


Introducing small farmers to new agricultural methods, such as better cooling chains and more effective fertilizer.

Establishing farmers' associations and interest groups.


2015 to 2019

Political Support

Malawian Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism


Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development

In a dark room, young men and women sort tobacco leaves according to grades. They wear breathing masks and rubber gloves. Barnet Magombo finds the protective clothing bothersome, but knows that the work would be dangerous without it. The equipment protects against toxic nicotine, pesticides and dust. It is by no means standard in Malawi, but here at the Mwimba College of Agriculture, an institution of the private research and consultancy association of small tobacco producers, it is compulsory


Magombo is studying at the Agricultural Technical College in the central district of Kasungu. Cigarettes are manufactured worldwide from Malawian tobacco. But for some years, demand for the main export of Magombo's home has been declining, as has its value. Even in 2016, prices were low at the start of the season. Most of the tobacco which was put on sale was not purchased despite its good quality.


Millions of Malawians are threatened by hunger

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With the cultivation of other foodstuffs, the Malawians are to become less dependent on tobacco. (c) Tristan Vostry

Magombo, whose older sister cultivates tobacco, is concerned about the development: "The small farmers are more and more often sitting on their goods. They have been able to consume tobacco more than with any other product."

In addition, the country is facing a food crisis. The culprit is the lopsided subsidization of agriculture, along with the El Niño phenomenon. According to the United Nations, about 8.5 million Malawians are threatened by hunger: about half of the population. The Malawian government is alarmed by the crisis. It has resolved to make the country less dependent on tobacco and to improve the country's food supply. GIZ is providing advice to help implement its strategy and strengthen production and income in Malawi.
Magombo sees better education for farmers as a solution. "Most farmers do not know about the risks of monoculture,", says the farmer. He would advise them to grow various crops, like peanuts, in addition to tobacco. "This makes them more independent and, if necessary, ensures that they will have enough food."


Focus on oil seeds

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Sunflower oil is used for cooking oil. (c) Tristan Vostry

After all, if they are not growing tobacco, they will have room for food. By routinely alternating crops, the fertility of the soil will be maintained. " A network of agricultural advisors, small producers and local food producers will make this possible,", says GIZ's Florian Bernhardt, the project manager, on the approach of the "Green Innovation Centers.". They are part of the "A WORLD without hunger" initiative of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Two agricultural colleges in Malawi, with which the German experts work, train young motivated farmers like Barnet Magombo to serve as multipliers. At Magombo's school, 200 students have already graduated as agricultural consultants. As such, they help small farmers around the country grow sunflowers, peanuts, soy and cassava in addition to tobacco and corn. The focus is on oilseeds, which can be easily processed in the country: for example, they can be converted into edible oil, a product that is used all over the world.


"Many do not know about the risks of monoculture."


When agricultural economist John W. Jiyani goes over to the campus of the technical school, he looks very satisfied. Much has already begun in the first year of cooperation with the German experts. "The library was equipped with textbooks and a building was renovated,", said Jiyani. "A laboratory and two oil presses are now available, and the campus has a solar-powered irrigation system." Above all, the school has revised its curriculum, which once contained a one-sided focus on tobacco, to include oilseeds and cassava. On the training fields, the students are able to deal extensively with every type of crop. Every year, 120 graduates complete the advanced training.


Magombo would like to continue studying after his one-year basic course. In three years, he would like to become an agricultural consultant. As such, he wants to share his knowledge about alternating crops and good cultivation practices with tobacco farmers. His dream is to buy his own plot of land later, hire workers and operate a sustainable farm.


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