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Feed the Future Innovation Lab Links Entrepreneurs With Malawian Peanut Farmers

This Article in Brief

  • Malawian farmers are diversifying their crops to include peanuts, ultimately meeting the growing demand.
  • Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Peanut is fostering smart, quality growth of groundnuts.
  • One example: To help farmers get the resources they need to grow high-quality peanuts, a point-based standard to measure quality and tailored equipment are used to increase peanut sales in formal African markets.

In today’s economy, Malawi’s farmers are diversifying their crops, moving away from less sustainable options such as tobacco. Peanuts, or groundnuts as they are called in Malawi, are the most widely grown legume in the country and an important part of the local diet. While the industry is growing, providing new opportunities for former tobacco farmers, inconsistent quality still limits income opportunities.

Facing declining global demand in tobacco, two large export companies are working with 10,000 Malawian farmers to grow peanuts instead. The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Peanut and entrepreneurs in the United States have been helping Malawi foster a growing, high-quality peanut industry, which in turn is helping Malawian farmers diversify their crops and increase income opportunities to improve their livelihoods.

“Connecting U.S. inventors and entrepreneurs with overseas partners not only creates potential market opportunities for those U.S. businesses, but also provides partners in developing countries access to appropriately designed equipment to process peanuts in-country,” said Dave Hoisington, Director for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Peanut. “This is a win-win.”

Dave Hoisington Peanut Innovation Lab

Photo by Dave Hoisington

Farmer Livelihoods Depends on Quality

Traditionally, exporters require that nuts be traded in the shell, which ensures more consistent quality and isolates nuts contaminated by fungi like aflatoxin, a carcinogen. Most local buyers, however, prefer to buy shelled nuts so they can see the exact quality of what they are purchasing. Nuts in informal markets typically are shelled before being sold, but have a much higher risk of being contaminated by poisonous aflatoxin.

Feed the Future is helping farmers solve this problem. The USAID Malawi Agriculture Diversification Activity (AgDiv) and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab teamed up to develop a point-based system to measure the quality of peanut crops and equipment that was specially adapted for the scale of the African market to standardize the quality of product being sold.

These solutions and resources are helping incentivize farmers to continue diversifying their crops and grow high-quality peanuts.

Dave Hoisington Innovation Lab

Photo by Dave Hoisington

Meeting Quality Standards Increases Sales

Buyers face a major challenge when it comes to aggregating crops from smallholder farmers who lack the resources and incentives to follow best practices for quality. With few standards for trade and no easy way to measure quality, buyers often pay farmers for peanuts by volume, regardless of quality.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab and partners – including American innovators – came up with the “Peanut Buying Point in a Box.” With this kit, buyers shell a sample of the harvest and sort nuts by grade, then pay the farmer for the quality of their crop. Based on processes and standards followed by the U.S. peanut industry, the Peanut Buying Point in a Box includes equipment for buyers to shell, clean, check moisture and aflatoxin levels, and grade a peanut sample. Buyers know what they are buying and can separate peanuts for aflatoxin risk before mixing crops from different farmers together.

The prototype of the shelling equipment in the kit came from Florida-based Frank Nolin, a retired agricultural equipment manufacturer who spent his career building processing and handling equipment primarily for the U.S. peanut industry. Nolin’s equipment has made it possible for buyers to separate nuts by grade, reward farmers based on quality, and identify grades of peanuts to sell in different markets.

The kit also includes the tablet-based Mobile Assay, an aflatoxin-testing system developed by Colorado-based neuroscientist, Don Cooper.

“The interest (from small-scale shellers) comes from around the world,” Nolin said. “I am just happy to be part of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Peanut’s work and to play a small part in helping people in developing countries.”

Thanks to the Feed the Future Innovation Lab, U.S. inventors and entrepreneurs are helping smallholder farmers diversify their crops, helping them realize their income potential. The increase in accessibility of standardized testing has changed the direction of the peanut industry across African markets, allowing for a more sustainable future for all.

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