You are a small-scale farmer in rural Malawi. How would you prefer to sell the maize (corn) you harvest?
- Directly from the field for 15¢ per kg
- Milled into flour for 61¢ per kg
I promise it’s not a trick question. Clearly, the answer is (b); the value added by a mill is huge, without requiring too much more work! When Boyd and I visited Manyamula village in 2011, they told us that the closest maize mill was over the border in Zambia and so all that value added was being taken away from their village and given to the next village to the west.
That is, it was until the beginning of this year when the Manyamula Village Savings and Loans cooperative, MAVISALO, got their milling and shelling machines up and running! The original proposal was for one maize mill but the savvy cooperative leaders were able to use the Spirit in Action Community Grant funds to buy two mills, one for shelling and the other for grinding, because of the devalued local currency.
Now, the members of MAVISALO own the mills cooperatively and all are responsible for making sure they are cleaned, maintained, and guarded. As a result, Canaan Gondwe, MAVISALO leader says that, “there is increased relations strengthening the cohesion amongst the members. As members interact to discuss issues of the mill project, there is a lot of mutual sharing of ideas and experiences.”
This collective ownership also means that all members have access to the mills for a small use fee. Of course the fees aren’t going to some corporate CEO, but rather they are given back to the cooperative for their loan fund, to provide local, low-interest loans to village members for businesses, school fees, medical emergencies, or house repairs. So far, the maize mills fees have increased MAVISALO’s loan capital by just over $500.
The generosity of MAVSIALO members continually amazes me; a percentage of the profit generated by the mill is diverted to a social fund to provide assistance for widows and village members who are living with HIV/AIDS.
Local leadership = Local impact
The latest report from Canaan and the group confirmed that the mills are making an impact on the families of MAVISALO members, “Our biggest success has been that the maize (which is the staple food) and other grain crops are being processed at reasonable costs.”
By collectively choosing the answer (b), Manyamula village members themselves are driving this process of reducing poverty and building a stronger society. Together they:
- Prepared grant proposal
- Purchased mills locally
- Secured a safe storage place for the mills from the local leaders
- Collectively use and care for the mills
- Reap the benefits of higher profits on their crops together
- Produce local feed for chickens, cows, and pigs
- Increase loan fund for low-interest loans
- Build local leadership
It is a pleasure to support such a wonderful, community-based organization! Good work, MAVISALO!
Related stories about MAVISALO:
- I’ve seen how small groups can achieve great things
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- MAVISALO: A national model in Malawi
- “Chopping” poverty through business training