Breaking with tradition

Pineapples prove a novel source of income for this Malawian community

Tabiya Jafali is one of the members of the Chitontho Farmer Field School, which is increasing farmers’ income by growing pineapples. ©FAO/T. Munthali


The Nkhotakota district of Malawi is nestled between the sandy shores of Lake Malawi and the country’s largest wildlife reserve. Agriculture is one of the biggest industries and many communities live off the land. Farmers often grow rice, maize and cassava, the traditional crops of the area, as their parents and grandparents did before them. However, if you gaze out at the land surrounding Kakowa village, you’ll see something a little different: a sea of spiky, green pineapple crowns. So how did this community come to break with tradition and start farming the tasty, tropical fruit so many of us know and love?

In essence, the community was struggling to make an adequate income on the yields from traditional crops like rice and maize. Tabiya Jafali, a mother of three young children, recounts, “I had been farming rice for years and had very little return over the years. It was increasingly difficult to meet my children’s needs at home and to have enough money for school fees.”

A little while ago, however, Tabiya heard about the Farmer Field School (FFS) in her area. Thirty women and 12 men were enrolled in the group, which is supported by FAO and the Government of Malawi under the European Union-funded project, KULIMA short forKutukula Ulimi m’Malawi, which translates to “Promoting farming in Malawi”. The project aims to strengthen the farming knowledge of communities and empower them to transition from subsistence agriculture to a more productive and commercially-oriented agriculture. 

Back in April 2019, members of FAO’s Chitontho FFS decided that they had to make a change in the way they farmed. They looked around for a viable farming enterprise that would allow them to boost their incomes and heard about a similar group of farmers who had tried something new: pineapple farming. Pineapples aren’t a common part of the diet in Nkhotakota, despite Malawi being a tropical country, but the FFS group learned that it was profitable. Being encouraged further by the government’s District Agriculture office, the Chitontho FFS group made a unanimous decision to grow pineapples. 

“We had to try something different. We had to try something that would bring in a good amount of money for us as farmers,” states Rhamadani, the facilitator and chairperson of the Chitontho FFS.

Looking out from Kakowa village, there is a sea of spiky green pineapple heads. ©FAO/T. Munthali

From then on, the members attending the FFS were farming with a purpose and that was income and nutrition security for their households. Fast forward to today, nearly a year later, they say that their initial confidence is unwavering and their progress steady.

Since planting, the group has learnt a lot about farming the spiky fruit. Ethel Mwase, who supports the group as their Agriculture Extension Development Coordinator, says that the FFS’s “learning by doing” approach has meant that farmers have adopted successful farming practices, including mulching as a key practice for soil moisture conservation. This is crucial in Nkhotakota where temperatures are high due to its low altitude along the lakeshore. 

The FFS’s 1.8-hectare piece of land has 53 000 plants that have already started bearing fruit. With an average selling price of 500 Malawian Kwacha (USD 0.68) per pineapple, Chitontho FFS members’ potential earnings stand at 35 million Malawian Kwacha (USD 47 619) per annum after the first year. They hope that harvests will increase from the current 53 000 to about 70 000 fruits in subsequent years.

The next step, of course, is selling the fruit. Currently, Chitontho FFS members have pitched a sales stand along the main road passing through the Nkhotakota district – but their long-term plans go much further than the local community.

“Our goal right now is to find reliable buyers such as juice-making companies that can buy the fruit directly from us, at a fair price and make payments on time, and we need to do this fast,” says Cosmas, the FFS’s marketing officer.

The KULIMA project has engaged the Agribusiness Officer at the District Agriculture Office, Sani Kaombe, who is working on capacity building with the FFS members and supporting them as they identify potential markets. The goal is to transition the FFS into a cooperative and link Chitontho members with the original group of farmers growing pineapple in the district to increase their selling power.

A local community in Malawi has come together to try a new venture: pineapple farming. ©FAO/T. Munthali

The group is also exploring opportunities that will ensure more profits for their products, such as buying additional land to increase their production capacity. Currently, the Chitontho FFS has started to increase its production by farming on members’ individual farms.

For this community, farming had always been a way of life – but they knew that traditional methods weren’t going to sustain them. Innovative thinking, a desire to learn together as a community and a little willingness to take risks has certainly paid off. This is what the Sustainable Development Goals are all about – boosting innovation in areas like agriculture and creating long-term, sustainable livelihoods for communities around the world.

Learn more

3. Good health and well-being, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 15. Life on land