Climbing the Potato Path


The First Mile team took some time to talk shop atop the beautiful Zomba plateau in Malawi a couple weeks ago. With a box of wine and a bag of fresh raspberries, we hiked into the bowl of the plateau to spend the weekend talking about smallholder agriculture by candlelight, huddled in blankets, in a rustic chalet at a trout farm.

Raspberries, blankets, and trout, on a mountain in Malawi?

Stranger things have happened.

The path that took us straight up the mountain is charmingly called The Potato Path. It has been worn by potato farmers who live in the valley on the other side of the mountain and who climb up and down it to bring their produce to the market in Zomba town.

I’ve been told that Malawi is the biggest producer of Irish potatoes (by volume) in the region and that it has, on average, higher yields. Zomba, with its altitude and cold climes, is an excellent place to grow potatoes. However, despite huge potential, many problems plague potato production and marketing in this country.

When I think about the potato path, I am somberly reminded of the challenges smallholders face.

Some are literally as big as a mountain.


3 Responses to “Climbing the Potato Path”

  1. 1 Kim September 10, 2009 at 11:00 am

    LOVE the blog, guys. Makes me all nostalgic for my days in Malawi.

    Missing Zomba, missing ewb overseas stuff, missing you guys!

    Keep up the good work :)

  2. 2 Elizabeth September 17, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Did your raspberry and trout retreat reveal any startling conclusions, innovations, or insights?

    Also, are potatoes a common food in Malawi? They seem to be a staple in Canada and other parts of the world, but judging from blogs I’ve read etc, rice and corn seem to be more popular in Malawi… am I way off?

    Thanks for the blog!

    • 3 thulasyb September 22, 2009 at 4:10 pm

      Thanks for the comments Elizabeth!

      Rice and corn are very popular in Malawi as a staple food, but you’ll also find potatoes everywhere. I think my consumption of potatoes increases 10 fold every time I go there! There are little delicious chippy (fries) stands all over the place, so even though they may not officially qualify as a “staple”, Malawians are definitely eating a lot of potatoes.

      For more on potatoes in Malawi, I suggest Colleen’s blog:

      As for mind-blowing revelations, I’d say we came away with more questions than answers. This sector is so complex, we spend most of our time figuring what kind of value we can bring to it. What’s needed, what are we good at, and what are we passionate about? Lots of questions!


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Working to include smallholder farmers in agricultural markets, we know there are no easy answers. This blog is a place to ask "What does it take to make it work?" and to share what we're seeing and learning.
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