Bwanje Valley Rice Cooperative Making Strides in Product Packaging

Bwanje Valley Rice Cooperative is a small-scale rice processing scheme established in 2004. It is located in Mtakataka, Dedza approximately 100 km from the capital Lilongwe. The Cooperative has 2067 members comprising 1078 women and 979 are men. The Cooperative mills and processes Kilombero Rice which they buy from small scale farmers surrounding the rice scheme and most of them are members of the cooperative. Due to some administrative challenges, the cooperative was non-operational up until 2017 when it re-started its operations. In that year (2017) they produced over 2000 metric tonnes of kilombero rice which they managed to sell to shops like Spar, Sana supermarket and M & A General Investments.

Bwanje Rice Cooperative is one of the beneficiaries of the trainings and capacity building sessions that MITC has been conducting through the EIF project. Of particular importance to the cooperative, is the training they received from MITC in 2017 on the importance of packaging and labeling of products.

According to the Vice Chairperson of the Cooperative, Fidelis Sauka, before the training on best practices for packaging of products, the cooperative was only packing their rice in plain packets without any labeling. This obviously made their product unidentifiable on the shelves as well as there was little to no awareness of their brand.  

‘At first we didn’t have the expertise of how we can package our rice to be able to compete on the market. Our rice was packed in plain packets that were not labeled and branded. This affected the competitiveness of our product and we lost out some markets because of this. But now after attending a training on Packaging and Labeling organized by MITC through the EIF project we have tremendously improved our packaging. We even received good feedback when we participated in the 2018 Malawi International Trade Fair in Blantyre.’ Explained Sauka.

Sauka is happy that their new packaging has been approved by the Malawi Bureau of Standards and soon they will receive a certification from them. MBS being the national standards body has been accredited internationally and this gives Bwanje Rice Cooperative an advantage of marketing their products since they will have a certification from the bureau.

‘We are also excited that the Malawi Bureau of Standards have been to our factory to do their assessments on our rice and soon we will be given a certification because we have passed all the requirements that are needed. ‘Narrates Sauka.

The Cooperative is making huge impact in the surrounding community. With membership of over 2000 people, they have employed some support staff who are helping them in milling and grading of the rice. Currently they have five graders, two men and three women and are getting K15, 000 as monthly income an increase from K10, 000.00 in the past.
20 year old Cecilia Sosteni one of the female graders appreciates how employment at the factory is helping her provide for her home.
‘I come from a single parent home. My father died some years back. My mother is the one who has raised me together with my five siblings. She sells tomatoes to provide for the home. But now since I got a job at the cooperative, I am now the bread winner in my family.

Cecilia weighing the rice
Cecilia weighing the rice before packaging

Cecilia Sosten

"Together with my mom’s earnings we are managing to provide basic necessities for the home. And my siblings are able to continue with their education."

Cecilia is optimistic that once the cooperative identifies stable markets for their rice, her income will rise.

‘I am hopeful that once we manage to find markets, especially international ones, we will earn more than what we are getting now.’

Bwanje Rice Cooperative has the capacity to produce up to 20 tons of rice per week. However, currently they are only producing 6 tons of rice per week owing to demand conditions. For this year (2018) the cooperative has managed to produce 4000 metric tons of Kilombero rice which is packaged in packets of 1kg, 2kg, 5kg and 10kg.

Despite making strides in improving their packaging, Bwanje Rice cooperative is still struggling to find steady markets for their rice. Although they managed to sell some of the rice in 2017, the cooperative is still searching for markets both local as well as international for the rice.

With the improved packaging and possible certification from the Malawi Bureau of Standards, Bwanje rice cooperative can be relatively competitive on the market. MITC is working closely with the cooperative to establish market linkages with potential buyers in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia where there is high demand for Malawian rice.

MITC through the EIF project is helping exporters in Malawi to get access to international markets through participation in regional and international trade fairs, B2B meetings and also tailor made capacity building programs to equip potential exporters like Bwanje Rice cooperative in best practices for export marketing.

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