The Malawi Tea 2020 programme implements strategies that enable smallholders to have a more sustainable income.

This could be through better agricultural practices and land management, diversification of their income base, or business skills development, often carried out through Farmer Field Schools (FFS).

Participation in Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) programmes also has a positive impact on farmer and worker incomes and quality of life, including improvements in housing and diet. Thanks to a nutrition and sanitation programme, farmers and workers now also have better access to healthy foods and understand the need for better nutrition.

Key achievements

  • 64%

    of tea farmers attended Farmer Field Schools

    Good agricultural practices, increased yields, higher quality for 10,564 farmers (81% women)

  • 925,880

    Growing drought-resistant tea seeds

    in 59 community nurseries run by FFS famers, 9 of which received business coaching to enable operating as micro-enterprises.

  • 70%

    of all tea farmers received nutrition training

    11,579 (81% women) farmers are improving access to more nutritious diets and better hygiene practices.

  • 30%

    of FFS farmers attending business management training

    in Farmer Business Schools

  • 12,500

    Farmers and workers participated in Village Savings and Loans

    Increasing financial security

We have really enjoyed delivering our smallholder programmes. On the basis of a wide-ranging body of work - covering gender, nutrition, entrepreneurship, tea agronomy, nursery establishment, beekeeping – we were able to strengthen the trust that the farming communities placed in us. This led us to identify more and more needs, which we then did our best to address. Because of the amount of investment we were able to leverage for our work, and the confidence our funders placed in our team, we were able to test new concepts and approaches. Some of these, e.g. the VSLAs, proved to be more impactful than we would ever have imagined, and we are rolling these out in other tea regions too. There is a lot that can be done still to support farmers with building more resilient livelihoods, and we are looking forward to the next phase. We particularly would like to stay engaged on activities that keep pushing up farmers’ incomes while at the same time supporting environmental conservation and regeneration in the tea growing districts.

Ethical Tea Partnership

Nutrition and sanitation training is carried out to improve the health of tea farmers and their families through the consumption of a more diversified diet and regular hand washing. A survey amongst 500 farmers participating last year revealed that the training brought about substantial behavioural change with regards to diets and hygiene practices. Find out more:

  • 98%

    Farmers said they are eating items from each of the 6 food groups every week after learning about nutrition

    compared to 17% prior to the training

  • 92%

    Farmers increased the amount of food they ate

    with this change being reflected across all members of the household

  • 94%

    Farmers were practicing the cooking recipes they learned in the training

  • 74%

    Farmers constructed hand washing stations (tippy-taps) following the training

    82% of these were found to be operational and actively used for handwashing

  • Nearly 100%

    Farmers indicated that they had increased the number of times they washed their hands

    with 90% reporting that they use soap every time they wash their hands

VSLA results

To help boost and diversify incomes, Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) have been set up for farmers and workers: a peer-to-peer credit scheme to provide access to small loans and allow savings to be made by the members. In July 2020, an independent evaluation of the VSLA programme was commissioned to better understand how it is changing people’s lives:

  • VSLA members perceived their financial security to have improved due to VSLA participation.

    Respondents percentage that has VSLA as their only saving mechanism 73
    79% Percentage of respondents that said VSLA participation has helped them to better keep track of household expenses 79
    Percentage of respondents that said the same of business expenses 69
    Two-thirds of respondents did not have savings before joining their VSLA group.
  • Respondents have remained in their group since they joined

    Respondents percentage 99
    Percentage of respondents highlighted that ‘good financial returns’ is a key driver of group retention 92
  • Respondents increased the number of income generating activities (IGAs) they were involved in due to their participation in the VSLA.

    Percentage of respondents involved in IGAs after VSLA participation 47
    Percentage of female respondents that said they are now very involved in decision-making around the use of household money, including savings. 74
    There is a positive correlation between the number of years involved in the VSLA and the number of IGAs a member is engaged in. Women’s involvement in decisions regarding income sources and IGAs has also increased substantially
  • VSLA members perceived their financial security to have improved due to VSLA participation. The VSLA also has had a sizeable impact on asset ownership among respondents

    Percentage of respondents reported having iron sheets on their roofs PRIOR to VSLA engagement 41
    Percentage of respondents reported having iron sheets on their roofs AFTER VSLA engagement 91
    Percentage of respondents reported owning a mobile phone BEFORE joining VSLA 33
    Percentage of respondents reported now owning a mobile phone (AFTER joining VSLA) 74
  • The VSLA has had a significant impact on quality of life

    Percentage of the respondents that referred to a positive change in emotional well-being 89
    Percentage that also mentioned improved household diets 87
  • Improvement in their status after joining VSLA

    Percentage of respondents that indicated their status in society had improved 89
    Percentage of respondents that said their status in their family had improved as well 72
    Percentage of respondents that have been able to help other people (outside of the household) with money made through the VSLA 47

Timeline of Activities

Though the five years of the program, between 2016 and 2020, farmer capacity-building programs on GAP, nutrition, VSLAs, and tea nursery management have been implemented

  • 2017 - 2018

    First farmer business schools set up and start of entrepreneurship training

  • 2018

    Living Income Benchmark by GIZ (The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) and start of business coaching for tea nurseries (pilot)

  • 2019

    Tea smallholder database is finalized

  • 2020

    VSLA impact survey shows significant impact on farmer livelihoods

Stories from the field

  • Members of Umodzi workers VSLA preparing for share-out [Credit ETP]

    How VSLAs can uplift people’s lives

    Mary Khotiwa went from struggling to saving to successfully growing her business, showing how Village Savings and Loan Associations support a profitable smallholder sector. VSLAs increase incomes – the case…

    Read more
    How VSLAs can uplift people’s lives
  • Tasankha tea nursery’s first forays into the business world

    Funds for farmer-run nurseries to help develop a profitable smallholder sector In December 2017, 25 tea farmers under Sukambizi Association Trust set up Tasankha tea nursery with a view to…

    Read more
    Tasankha tea nursery’s first forays into the business world
  • Farmer Field School: Better health from improved nutrition

    Learning about good agricultural and dietary practices transformed life for Ethel Benda and her family, showing how Farmer Field Schools contribute to a profitable smallholder sector Before joining the Farmer…

    Read more
    Farmer Field School: Better health from improved nutrition


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