Issue Pack: Groundnut value chain in Malawi, production

Crop production


1.     Introduction and how to use this issue pack

This issue pack is designed to provide broadcasters with the information they need to help create effective and entertaining radio programs on growing groundnuts. The issue pack focuses on groundnuts in Malawi, but the information will be relevant, with some possible modifications, to other sub-Saharan African countries where groundnuts are grown.

The issue pack begins with this introduction, then tells a story about a Malawian groundnut farmer.

Section 3 presents information on growing groundnuts, and provides a brief introduction to the groundnut value chain in Malawi. (Please see Resource Pack 95, Item 9 – An introduction to value chains – for the definition of a “value chain,” and to understand why value chains are important for both broadcasters and farmers.) Please note that our next Resource Pack will focus on the post-harvest aspects of the groundnut value chain.

In section 4, we offer some suggestions for creating program on groundnut production.

In the final section, section 5, we list sources for further information on groundnut production, including resource organizations, online radio programs, online videos, and online documents.

You could use the information in this issue pack in several ways. For example:

  • You could use the story in section 2 as a starting point for creating stories in your own area, by interviewing groundnut farmers.
  • You could use the information in section 3 as background information for any program on groundnuts.
  • You could use the suggestions in section 4 as starting places for creating a groundnut program, possibly also using information in section 3 to inform your program.
  • You could contact one or more of the organizations mentioned in section 5 for information or for experts to interview.
  • You could use the information in the online, audio and video resources of section 5 to help create programs on groundnuts.

2.     Groundnut story

Mrs. Francena Jere is a groundnut farmer in her early 50s from Mikayeli village in Mchinji District, about 100 kilometres from Malawi’s capital city of Lilongwe. She and her husband have five children – one girl and four boys. One child is married, one works as a teacher, and the other three children are still in school.

In 2001, Mrs. Jere decided to leave Lilongwe where her husband works to live in the village and concentrate on farming. Life had been hard with only her husband’s salary to meet the family’s needs. Her aim was to grow enough on a little more than one hectare of land to sustain the family for the whole year, and meet pressing needs such as school fees for their children.

In the first few years, she grew maize with a little groundnut for household use. She used local, recycled groundnut seeds, and followed the traditional growing practices she learned from her parents.

In 2002, Mrs. Jere realized that groundnuts could boost her income, so dedicated a little less than a quarter hectare to the crop. The local extension worker recommended that she plant improved varieties with higher yields and resistance to disease, and advised her how to avoid aflatoxin and other diseases with improved farming, harvesting, shelling and storage practices.

Mrs. Jere joined a farm business school to help approach groundnut production as a business. The school members decided to pool their efforts and help each other grow groundnuts for sale. Their yields were good in the first growing season. The members sold their groundnuts as a group, and Mrs. Jere made enough money to expand the family’s groundnut plot and support her family well. Her groundnut business was beginning to be a success!

Mrs. Jere has since expanded her groundnut production again. The nuts her group sells are low in aflatoxin and thus qualify as Fair Trade groundnuts, which earns the women a good premium. The farm business school has established a co-operative that is registered to sell bulk groundnuts both inside and outside the country. Mrs. Jere is planning to buy more land for this year’s groundnut crop. Her children are now healthy, well-fed and well cared for.

Thanks to groundnuts, her farm business school, a helpful extension worker, and her own determination, Mrs. Jere will never look back.

3.     Background information on groundnut production in Malawi

General: Groundnuts are one of the most important food and cash crops in Malawi. They are mostly grown by small-scale, resource-poor farmers, particularly women. About one in every five farmers in Malawi grows groundnuts. Most small-scale groundnut farmers use little or no fertilizer or pesticides.

Malawian farmers grow groundnuts in Malawi primarily for household use with the surplus for sale. Groundnuts are a good source of protein, vitamins and vegetable oils, and are a significant part of household diets in most parts of the country.

Groundnuts can be grown at low cost. They are a particularly easy “entry” cash crop because they don’t require specialized skills, equipment or fertilizer. Groundnuts normally require family labour and some hired labour.

Groundnuts are normally considered a subsistence rather than a cash crop in Malawi. So farmers do not usually consult extension workers when they have problems. As a result, farmers may not have information on good groundnut practices.

Groundnuts can be an important source of income, especially for women farmers, who have been mostly excluded in Malawi from growing cash crops such as tobacco. Groundnuts provide more than a quarter of small-scale farmers’ income in Malawi.

Although groundnuts are grown in nearly all of Malawi’s 28 districts, 70% of the crop in grown in the Central Region. The main groundnut growing areas are the plains of the following districts: Lilongwe, Kasungu, Mchinji, Mzimba, Salima, Balaka, Ntchisi, Dowa and Thyolo.

Typically, groundnut farmers grow about one acre (0.4 hectares) of groundnuts. Women farmers typically devote more land to groundnut, and grow it more frequently than men as a subsistence crop. Recently, men farmers are devoting more land to groundnuts, specifically growing it as a cash crop. Groundnuts are a rain-fed crop in Malawi; less than 1% of groundnuts are irrigated.

Groundnuts do well when they are grown immediately following a well-managed and fertilized crop such as maize. This is because groundnuts are good at utilizing residual nutrients. For best results, groundnuts should not be grown in the same field two years in a row. This reduces damage from soil-borne diseases, soil-dwelling pests and weeds.

Groundnuts can be grown in a wide range of rotations and can follow any cereal or root & tuber crop, for example, maize, sorghum, pearl millet, cassava, sweet potato or sunflower. To minimize diseases and pests, groundnut should not be sown after any legume, cotton or tobacco crop to minimize pest and disease attack.

Although groundnuts are tolerant of droughts, having adequate moisture in the soil at sowing time results in better yields.

Until the late 1980s, groundnuts were one of Malawi’s major export crops, with annual exports of about 50,000 tonnes. The export market collapsed mainly because of the high level of aflatoxin contamination in Malawian nuts. Another reason for the collapse was policies advocated by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank that removed the monopoly of the government trading company (ADMARC), which was the major outlet for produce from all farmers in Malawi. Without the ADMARC monopoly, farmers increasingly sold their groundnuts to traders and vendors, grading systems declined, and prices dropped.

Groundnut seed and varieties

Most small-scale groundnut farmers use seeds saved from the previous harvest. Others buy seeds from vendors, or receive them from NGOs. However, to achieve higher yields, it is advisable to use high-quality seed. Groundnut seeds intended for sowing should be hand-shelled and sorted in order to eliminate skinned, immature, moldy, broken and small seeds.

The most popular varieties are CG7 (Red in colour) and Chalimbana (tan in colour). Other varieties currently being promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture include Nsinjiro, Baka, Kakoma (also called JL24), and Chalimbana 2005.

It is advisable for farmers to use improved varieties because some not only yield higher, but are also more resistant to diseases such as rosette and aflatoxin. Kakoma is more susceptible to diseases than the other varieties. Baka, Chitala and Kakoma are early-maturing varieties. They take 90-120 days to mature. While Chalimbana and CG7 can take up to 150 days to mature, Chalimbana 2005 is an improvement of Chalimbana variety. Though it takes the same period to mature (150 days), it is higher-yielding and less susceptible to diseases. In areas where rain tapers off early, it is advisable to grow early-maturing varieties like Baka, Kakoma and Nsinjiro. CG7 is, however, more drought-tolerant and can thus be grown in a wide range of areas.


 Figure 1: Diagram of groundnut plant

Farming practices


Land preparation for groundnuts takes place before the growing season starts. Farmers plant groundnuts before the full rains begin, but after the first “effective rains.” (Editor’s note: The term “effective rains” is widely used in Malawi to mean rainfall that is sufficient for planting. Groundnuts need at least 26 millimetres of rainfall for planting. It used to be said that groundnuts were planting with the “first rains,” but with the climate changing, the first rains are usually not enough for planting.)

Farmers usually plant groundnuts after crops such as maize and tobacco. However, it is advisable to plant groundnuts together with all the other important crops.

Ridges can be made flat-topped (for those who want to sow two rows per ridge). Seeds must not be sown immediately after heavy rains or they will absorb too much water, which causes rotting. Seeding after heavy rains also results in excessive soil compaction, which may block germination.

Early sowing improves yields, partly because groundnuts avoid the stresses of late-season droughts. It also prevents diseases like rosette and leaf spot which affect groundnuts when they are planted late. Significant planting delays can reduce yield by 50% and reduce the quality of the nuts.

Groundnuts grown on ridges tend to have higher yields, probably because the looser soil in ridges encourages pod development and easier uprooting. Box ridges retain soil moisture better than open ridges. Ridges are normally placed 75 centimetres apart. When ridges are 75 centimetres apart, double rows can be planted on the ridge at 30 centimetres apart. Planting double rows at this spacing results in groundnut plants covering the soil rather quickly, which shades out weeds.

Plant spacing between seeds depends on the variety. For example, CG-7 and Chalimbana is planted 15 centimetres apart in a row. Early maturing varieties such as Kakoma, Baka, and Chitala are spaced at 10 centimetres.

Improved varieties will increase yield, but good management practices are also necessary for good yields. This includes early planting, planting good quality seed, and use of recommended varieties. Almost all groundnut farming activities are done manually.


Because groundnut plants do not compete effectively with weeds, particularly for the first six weeks after sowing, it’s important to weed within 45 days after sowing. Rotating crops can reduce some types of weeds. It’s recommended that farmer weed groundnuts at least twice during the growing season. The first weeding can be done with a hoe. Further weeding should be done by hand to avoid damaging the developing pods of the groundnut plant.

Disease and pest management

Several plant diseases can cause major yield losses.

Groundnut rosette

Groundnut rosette is a viral disease transmitted by insects called aphids. Rosette is the most destructive disease of groundnut, and can cause 100% loss of yield in severe cases. It is common in Malawi and other groundnut-producing countries in Africa In years with serious drought, rosette is more serious and farmers can lose their entire crop. If rosette occurs at flowering, yield losses are very large.

Early, dense sowing helps control rosette by covering the soil as quickly as possible and restricting the movement of the aphids which transmit the disease. Groundnut varieties which are resistant to rosette are widely grown in Africa. In Malawi, many farmers interplant groundnut and maize to control groundnut rosette.


Aflatoxin is not actually a disease; rather it is a toxic substance produced by a micro-organism called a fungus (commonly called a “germ” by farmers). This particular fungus (with the scientific name, Aspergillus flavus) commonly affects groundnut pods and seeds, producing aflatoxin. Groundnuts contaminated with aflatoxin are poisonous to people, causing liver cancer and stunting in young children. They are also poisonous to livestock. Groundnuts cannot be exported to western countries unless aflatoxin levels are very low. When groundnut seed is contaminated with aflatoxin, the seed is rotten and cannot be planted.

Aflatoxin can contaminate groundnuts at any point during the production and post-harvest cycle – in the field, during harvest, during drying, and in storage. Contamination is more likely to occur in the field during droughts, because groundnut pods can crack in dry weather, allowing fungi to invade.

To minimize aflatoxin contamination in groundnut fields, the following practices are recommended:

  • Use improved varieties.
  • Rotate crops
  • Plant early so harvest occurs while there’s still moisture in the soil and the pod doesn’t crack and let fungi in.
    • Use correct plant spacing to shade the soil and maintain soil moisture.
    • Where possible, apply lime to harden the pod, decreasing the possibility of cracking. The rate of application is 200 kg per hectare, applied after flowering. Lime contains calcium which thickens pod walls and decreases the possibility of infection. Also, it is recommended to add phosphorus-rich fertilizers such as SSP and D-Compound.
    • Applying manure when sowing may help reduce infection and aflatoxin contamination. Manure also encourages soil-dwelling micro-organisms which manage soil- and seed-borne infections.
    • Where possible, the groundnuts can be irrigated if the rainy season ends early
    • Control pests and diseases such as termites

When farmers use improved varieties and good management practices, aflatoxin levels may be low at harvest. But aflatoxin levels can quickly rise with poor drying practices, when water is used to soften shells, or when contaminated nuts are mixed with uncontaminated nuts. Thus, most of the critical points for controlling aflatoxin are post-harvest. (See item 2 in this Resource Pack for more on controlling aflatoxin post-harvest.)

Early and late leaf spot

About a month after planting, small spots can appear on leaves, which can enlarge and turn brown or black. This is early leaf spot. Six to eight weeks after sowing, larger, circular black spots are symptoms of late leaf spot.

Because the fungi (known as “germs” to farmers) that cause leaf spot survive mainly on crop residues in the soil, rotating crops, removing “volunteer” plants (plants that grow from the previous season), and burying crop residues during early land preparation can significantly reduce early and late leaf spot.


Termites can damage groundnut roots and stems, and bore holes in the pods, thereby damaging nuts. When termites damage pods, they also provide an entry point for the fungi that produce aflatoxin.

To control termites:

  • Incorporate crop residues of cereal crops like maize early enough. As they decompose, the residues produce a heat which repels termites.
  • Destroy termite mounds and remove queen termites: It’s important to completely destroy the mounds. Partial destruction is not effective.
  • Plant early: Groundnuts will then mature before late-season droughts. Early planting leads to healthier, more vigorous plants which can better tolerate termite attack.
  • Correct plant spacing is also important. It can result in yields which are high enough to offset termite losses.
  • Harvest promptly: Delaying the harvest increases termite damage.
  • Apply chemicals
  • Avoid banking and weeding at the same time. This should be done at two separate times.

Soil fertility

Groundnuts are legumes and therefore add nitrogen to the soil, improving soil fertility for the next crop. For example, planting groundnuts will improve the yields of maize grown after groundnuts. Groundnuts tolerate low nitrogen soils. Their extensive root system allows them to use fertilizer or manure applied to previous crops in the rotation.

But direct fertilizer application will increase groundnut yields, especially on infertile soils. In Malawi, extension agents recommend that growers apply 100-150 kilograms of D-compound fertilizer per hectare when preparing land for groundnut production. D-compound is 8-8-15 (NPK), and contains sulphur and boron. It is not recommended to apply fertilizers high in nitrogen because they promote vegetative growth. Instead, it is important to apply fertilizer rich in phosphorus such as Single Super Phosphate (SSP).

For farmers who cannot afford fertilizer, it is recommended to apply two handfuls of manure per planting station. Alternatively, farmers can open the ridge during land preparation and broadcast 20 kilos of manure per 10 metre ridge. 

Groundnuts grown in calcium-deficient soils will produce very small pods. To balance calcium-deficient soils, add gypsum at flowering at a rate of 200 to 400 kg/ha depending on the calcium levels of the soil. Farmers should ask for soil tests to know the nutrient levels of their soil. (Editor’s note: In Malawi, farmers may ask extension agents to conduct free soil tests on their farms.)

Groundnuts respond well to manure. Manure not only supplies nutrients, but also helps to balance soil acidity.


Farmers should first verify if their groundnuts have matured by sampling plants at each corner of the field. At least 75% of the sampled plants should be mature. Groundnut plants are mature when the inside of the pods is dark brown. It is not advisable to use leaf drop as a sign of maturity because leaf drop can be the result of diseases. Mature seeds also have a thin and papery seed skin that is the same colour as the variety, and does not easily rub off. Immature seeds have thick, fleshy, pale-coloured skins which rub off easily.

Harvesting includes several stages: lifting (uprooting), drying, cocking (curing), plucking (separating the pods from the vines), and shelling. Once plants have been uprooted, they must be allowed to dry for a few days with the pods exposed to the air. After drying, they are cocked (cured) in an off-the-ground position. The cock should be built so that there is a free flow of air through the cock. This will result in quick, sure drying. (For instructions on building a Mandela cock, see episode 3 of item # 2) The pods are left in the cock for two to four weeks. Begin picking when the seeds rattle in their pods. It is estimated that one person can pluck one to two 50-kilo bags per day.

Yield and reasons for low yield

Groundnut farmers in Malawi get an average yield of 1000 kilograms per hectare for CG7 and Nsinjiro varieties and 600 kilograms per hectare for Chalimbana. There is potential for much larger yields with good management practices, such as those mentioned in this issue pack. In ideal conditions, the maximum potential yield for these varieties is 2500 kilograms per hectare for CG7, 2000 kilograms for Nsinjiro, and 1500 kilograms for Chalimbana.

Low yields are caused by a number of factors, including:

  • using recycled seed or low-yielding varieties
  • infertile soils
    • pest and disease attack
  • competition for labour with other crops. (Groundnut is a labour-intensive crop. Farmers may prefer to spend time on other crops such as maize, which may result in not performing important activities such as weeding.)
  • erratic rainfall and dry spells during important periods of plant growth such as immediately after planting and late in plant growth
  • lack of knowledge and skills in good groundnut production practices

Food and nutrition

Eating groundnuts can help families reduce malnutrition, since groundnuts have high levels of protein, lots of oil, and are a good source of vitamins, particularly vitamin E and vitamin B. Groundnuts are a particularly important source of protein for those without regular, affordable access to meat, eggs or dairy products,

Roasted groundnuts are a common snack in Malawi and other African countries. Groundnut flour is a common ingredient in “relishes” (sauces), which are served with staples such as maize or rice, and groundnuts are also eaten roasted, raw, cooked, and fried.

Groundnuts in livestock feed

Groundnut can be used in livestock feed. Because groundnut stalks and groundnut seed cake are rich in protein, groundnut improves weight gain in livestock.

Using groundnuts as livestock feed is limited in Malawi for several reasons, including:

  • groundnut’s importance as an inexpensive source of protein in human diets
  • lack of processing facilities
  • the high cost of transportation from growing areas to feed mills
  • the low price that farmers receive when selling to the animal feed industry

However, the groundnut stem or stalk can be fed to livestock or incorporated into the soil

Gender and groundnuts

Harvesting, drying, and shelling groundnuts are generally considered women’s activities, while land preparation, weeding, banking (to allow proper underground development of pods) and marketing are done by both men and women, though men tend to take control when the crop enters the market.

Men and women groundnut farmers may have different perspectives on groundnut farming. One project in Malawi found that women growers preferred varieties based on ease of uprooting and shelling, high grain yield and taste. Men’s preferences were based on high grain and fodder yields, larger seed, and market demand.

The groundnut value chain in Malawi: A brief overview

The first link in the groundnut value chain in Malawi is the input suppliers who provide farmers. (In fact, most small-scale farmers use recycled seeds, and do not purchase inputs such as fertilizers or pesticides for groundnut production.) Small-scale farmers typically sell their groundnuts (with minimal grading) to traders in the village or at the nearest trading centre.

A small proportion of farmers sell fresh nuts to traders who then sell them in urban markets. Traders also sell groundnuts to small traders at trading centres. These small traders grade and pack the nuts into 50-kilogram bags which are then sold to large traders, processors and foreign traders. The large traders or processors process some of the nuts into peanut butter and roasted salted nuts. Some of these products are repacked into smaller quantities and sold through supermarkets, and the remainder are exported.

Farmers process some groundnuts at home into groundnut powder, oil, and cooked or roasted nuts. Most of this is eaten in the home, and a small percentage goes to the local market.

It is estimated that 60% of all groundnuts produced in Malawi are consumed in the household or sold in local markets. The other 40% goes to processors, exporters, wholesalers and retail markets. Of this, 25% is sold in Malawi, and 15% is exported to countries such as the United Kingdom, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. For example, NASFAM Commercial, one of Malawi’s big traders and institutional buyers, exports most of its nuts to the UK under a Fair Trade scheme.

Here is one diagram of the groundnut value chain in Malawi:


Figure 2 – Groundnut value chain in Malawi

The greatest opportunity for groundnut farmers to increase their income lies in increasing yields. Currently, farmers’ yields for all varieties are less than 50% of the potential.

Grading and proper post-harvest handling would also enable farmers to negotiate for a higher price. One challenge is that some buyers offer the same price for graded and non-graded nuts. Collective marketing, an uncommon practice in Malawi, would also strengthen farmers’ position in the value chain. Most small-scale farmers in Malawi are not organized, but produce and market their groundnuts individually. Organized farmers work together in clubs, associations or co-operatives, with the assistance of farmer organizations, NGOs and government departments, including those listed in section 5 below.

4.     Production ideas

There are many ways to create radio programming on groundnut production. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Interview a successful groundnut farmer from the local region. Get her to tell her success story, what practices she uses, and ask listeners to call or text-in with questions and comments.
  • Interview an expert on groundnuts from the extension services or a regional, national or international research organization (a list of organizations can be found in section 5). After the interview, you could invite listeners to call or text-in with questions and comments. Questions to ask the guest include:
    • What are the best opportunities for farmers and farmer groups to benefit from growing and processing groundnuts in this region?
    • Is it important for individual farmers to join a group in order to benefit from the groundnut value chain? If so, please explain why.
    • Produce 4-6 radio spots which talk about the benefits of growing groundnuts. Each spot could start with the same “punchy” lead line and discuss one important benefit.
    • Host or chair a roundtable discussion on groundnuts in your community. Invite representatives from various groups – farmers’ groups, extension agents, Ministry representatives, groundnut breeders, traditional leaders, representatives of NGOs and research institutes that work with groundnuts, as well as individual groundnut farmers.
    • Interview members of farmers’ groups that have initiated successful groundnut businesses. Follow up with a call-in or text-in program which discusses whether the group’s approach would work for other farmers or farmers’ groups.
    • Adapt the items in this package to your local situation by conducting local research. Follow up broadcasts of the items with call-in and text-in programs or roundtable discussions.

5.     Further resources on the groundnut value chain in Malawi

Resource organizations

These are some of the organizations who are involved with groundnut production in Malawi. Many are attempting to address farmers’ challenges related to groundnut production.

  • ICRISAT: Osward Madzonga, Senior Scientific Officer, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Chitedze Agriculture Research Station, P. O. Box 1096, Lilongwe, Malawi. Tel: +265 1 707 297. Cell: 265 8 88 340 165. Email: or


  • NASFAM: Winston Fulu, National Association of Smallholder Farmers in Malawi (NASFAM), P. O. Box 30716, Lilongwe 3, Malawi. Tel: +265 1 772 866. Cell: 265 9 92 957 011. Email: or Website:
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, P. O. Box 30134, Lilongwe 3, Malawi. Tel: +265 1 789 033. Fax: +265 1 789 218. Website:
  •  Ministry of Industry and Trade, Gemini House, PO Box 30366, Capital City, Lilongwe 3, Malawi. Tel: +265 1770244. Fax: +265 1770680. Email: .

Resource programs and documents


  1. Twin. Combating Aflatoxin in Malawi’s Groundnuts, Part I: The Aflatoxin Problem.
  2. Twin. Combating Aflatoxin in Malawi’s Groundnuts, Part II: Twin’s Value Chain Approach.
  3. Twin. Combating Aflatoxin in Malawi’s Groundnuts, Part III: Solutions to the aflatoxin problem in groundnuts.


  1. ESAANET (The East and Southern Africa Agribusiness Net), sans date. Crop guide for groundnuts.
  2. Regaining ground for Malawi’s groundnuts. New Agriculturist, Novembre 2012.
  3. CEFA (Comitato Europeo per la Formazione e l’Agricoltura Onlus), 2011. Good agronomic practices for groundnuts in western Kenya.
  4. NARO (Organisation nationale de recherches agricoles), 2002. Groundnut manual for Uganda: Recommended groundnut production practices for smallholder farmers in Uganda.
  5. NARO (Organisation nationale de recherches agricoles), 2010. Management of Aflatoxins in Groundnuts.
  6. Isaac Minde et al., 2008. Constraints, challenges and opportunities in groundnut production and marketing in Malawi: Report No 4. ICRISAT (Institut international de recherche sur les cultures des zones tropicales semi-arides),



Contributed by: Vijay Cuddeford, Managing Editor, Farm Radio International.

Reviewed by: Dr. Justus Chintu, Research Scientist (groundnut breeding), Department of Agricultural Research Services, and Dr. Philip Kamwendo, Project Coordinator-Consultant, IFAD-SPIP, c\o Rural Livelihoods and Economic Enhancement Programme (RLEEP).