Women in Malawi are opening their first bank accounts so they can save to buy nutrient-enriched seed for their families, through a new “Save for Seed” HarvestPlus initiative.
Save for Seed is helping farmers and women’s savings groups enroll in formal digital bank accounts and save on flexible terms to purchase high quality farming inputs, while also training them on financial literacy and the nutritional benefits of biofortification. Saving for nutrition has never been more urgent than in the current climate where the affordability of a healthy diet is out of reach for billions globally.
To date, over 2,800 individual bank accounts have been opened (of them, 88% by women), and nearly 2,000 of these farmers have already bought at least two kilograms of vitamin A maize seed using their savings. When cultivated, this seed will provide 200-400 kilograms of vitamin A maize grain for household consumption, which research has shown to improve night vision among children and mothers’ breastmilk when eaten as the primary staple food.
“I opened my first bank account with the help of HarvestPlus. By saving with a bank, I’ve acquired financial discipline and have multiplied my savings enough to buy biofortified vitamin A maize seed,” said Fales Manyenje, a mother and farmer living in Thyolo District in Malawi where maize is the primary staple food.
Manyenje was seeking a way to save money so she could improve her on-farm production and family’s nutrition when she heard about the Save for Seed initiative at her farmer field school meeting. “I was compelled to join because I wanted to grow my money and be one of the farmers planting vitamin A maize due its nutritional benefits,” Fales explained.
Eighty percent of African women lack access to a bank account through a formal financial institution, compared to 25 percent of men. For many women in Malawi, informal and self-managed Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) are the only option available for savings and lending, particularly in areas where formal financial services are inaccessible or client income levels are limited. While VSLAs are effective at building savings discipline and enabling access to small amounts of credit—usually for emergency needs—they are not sufficient for larger purchases or access to credit, which are important for optimizing livelihoods.
To address this lack of formal savings and empower women to make more nutritious choices, the Save for Seed initiative was piloted with partners Self Help Africa, NBS Bank, and the Malawi Government District Community Development Offices in 2021-2022 in the districts of Mulanje and Thyolo.
Participation in the formal financial system enhances women’s access to inputs, labor, equipment, and technology to sustain and grow their livelihoods or agri-businesses.
The project specifically partnered with banks with capacity to open savings accounts remotely and with mobile money agent networks to improve access and outreach to rural clients.
On the importance of financially empowering women, HarvestPlus SME market and financial specialist Godfrey Nyoni emphasized, “Financial inclusion is a big impact solution for the underserved and excluded populations in Africa. Engaging farmers in the formal financial sector is a meaningful way to help them make purchases today that will improve their family’s health and, hopefully, in the future to access loans for improved livelihood opportunities.”
The Save for Seed initiative, among other agri-business training and financial projects to address the needs of small- and medium-enterprises, were implemented through the HarvestPlus Integrated Food Systems project, supported by the Government of Canada to deliver rapid and equitable improvements in nutrition and livelihoods through biofortification in Malawi, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
For more information about the Integrated Food Systems project, contact: [email protected].