An assessment of smallholder dairy farmer innovations in Malawi
Chindime, Sylvia Clarisa Collina
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The smallholder farmer dominated dairy industry in Malawi has undergone tremendous transformation in the past two decades. Access to markets and ever- changing market demands trigger innovations in the dairy value chain as the actors strive to take advantage of emerging opportunities. The smallholder dairy farmers are central actors in the dairy value chain and are affected by any innovation in the value chain. Invariably, they are compelled to continue innovating in response to the shocks and opportunities in the dairy value chain amidst other actors with unequal power relations and influence. How the smallholder farmers innovate and manage to sustain their livelihoods in a competitive and globalised market economy is the central focus of this study. Specifically, the study analyses the historical trends and patterns to position the smallholder farmers within the landscape of dairy innovations. It attempts to identify the factors that influence innovation in the dairy industry in Malawi while describing the institutional framework within which the smallholder farmers operate for sustainable enterprises. The study was conducted in four milk bulking groups situated in Lilongwe and Blantyre milk-shed areas of Malawi. A mixed concurrent research design was used combining case studies and cross sectional survey to generate qualitative and quantitative data respectively. Case studies were conducted focusing on in-depth insights into the historical and institutional aspects of the dairy industry permitting a holistically capturing of experiences and events as emerged over the years. The cross sectional survey involved 193 smallholder dairy farmers randomly sampled from Lilongwe and Blantyre milk-shed areas. Key informant interviews, utilising focus group discussions and semi-structured interview were used to collect qualitative data.. Qualitative data were analysed using Nvivo software version 11 for windows and content analysis to generate patterns, trends and relationships among the actors in the dairy value chain, while SPSS software version 19 was used to analyse the quantitative data where the Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) for multiple regression determined factors that influences innovation performance of the smallholder farmers. A trend analysis reveals a progressive increase in the number of actors engaged in the dairy value chain to innovate. Consequently, this leads to greater complexity of relationships between the actors with diverse interests. Amidst these complex relationships, the smallholder farmers are the most connected in terms of interaction, but at the same time, they are the least influential to other actors in the dairy innovation system. The inability to influence is associated with limited empowerment to bargain, lobby and advocate for change in their favour. Overall, Actors in the dairy innovation system have weak connections in their operations. The dairy innovation system in Malawi is reliant on the resilience of the smallholder farmer to continue producing in changing environmental context including the climate change phenomenon. This resilience can be enhanced by empowerment through producer associations to influence and bargain for incentives that support their innovations. The computed smallholder dairy farmer innovation index was 0.37 translating to 37%. The innovation index is a measure of innovativeness and performance of smallholder dairy farmers in the innovation system. Access to inputs, access to knowledge, networking ability, and participation in specific types of innovations are the factors that significantly influence the performance of smallholder farmers in the dairy innovation system. The cost of innovations and old age constrain farmer innovativeness and performance. This implies that sustainability of the dairy innovation system calls for attracting the youth in dairy farming as well as government interventions to lower the costs of production. A form of input subsidy is worth considering guaranteeing dairy based livelihoods and increasing contribution of the dairy industry to national economy. Changes in the institutional ecosystem of the dairy sector lead to maturity of three innovation functions: entrepreneurship activities, market formulation, and demand for search services. The limited availability of competent human resources, flow of financial resources, knowledge development, infrastructure and facilitated interaction and collaboration among actors are the main blocking factors to building a favourable institutional arrangement for smallholder farmers dominated dairy system in Malawi. A fair and rewarding dairy innovation system to all the actors is possible when there are regulated relationships among actors to avoid over-exploitation of some actors. These relationships create space for joint learning, mutual collaborations between the actors, and thereby building a dynamic supportive institutional ecosystem for a functional dairy innovation system. Whereas over-regulation can constrain innovations, judicious regulation is protective to all actors and incentivises creativity and better utilisation of resources including knowledge and skills. Strengthening farmer associations is the platform for their empowerment to effectively participate in partnerships and influence in sustainable dairy innovations in Malawi.