Mercy Chatepa’s business is to keep smallholder farmers happy.
“Happy farmers are productive farmers and my business supplies the right inputs that make farming productive and nothing makes a farmer happy than a good yield,” says Chatepa, who ran a successful restaurant in Machinga, on the southern part of Malawi and kept many customers fed. It was not until a customer advised her to enroll for an agro dealer training that was being held in her district in 2003. She did. Her MK7000 investment in the training course changed her career.
“I asked what was an agro dealer and why should I be interested in being an agro dealer when I was running a booming restaurant business for which I was trained? says Chatepa, owner of the DEBS Agrodealer, a hub agro dealer with a growing network in the southern and central regions of Malawi. Chatepa currently employs 40 workers, a majority of whom are women.
“I saw an opportunity for a lasting business because agriculture is a life’s work,” Chatepa says. “After training I did not have second thoughts about being an agro dealer. I registered my company in 2009 and it has been a good experience,” said Chatepa, a mother of three.
Malawi is an agriculture country where the majority of people depend on farming for food, jobs and income. However, many farmers experience low productivity because of a combination of poor soils, poor farming practices and limited fertilizer use.
Chatepa says establishing hub agro dealerships in rural areas can improve the access and use of fertilizers by smallholder farmers, some know little about fertilizers or are skeptical about their effectiveness.
“My agro dealer network in several districts in the country has helped farmers access inputs without travelling long distances as I have reduced the distances to access inputs by 50km and I buy in bulk to reduce costs to the farmers,” says Chatepa. “Being closer to farmers has enabled me to provide other services such as advise on using the inputs and using chemicals where farmers are not able to read labels written in English and I play the role of extension because government extension workers are inadequate to cover some remote areas where farmers are.”
Farmers, Chatepa says, are challenged by the high cost of fertilizers, an issue that needs the cooperation of manufacturers, government and agro dealers so that prices are affordable.
“I buy from a blender and others are competing with the agro dealers. We are lobbying with the Fertilizer Association of Malawi to give agro dealers fertilizer on consignment like it is done with seed. As a hub agro dealer we need good prices so we can ensure farmers get a fair deal.”