How Elias Bonomali Became a Famous Man

Day in the life of an African smallholder farmer
May 11, 2012 4:15 PM ET
Elias Bonomali, cotton farmer from Malawi, with his old and new house

Read the news release on CmiA's website

A flat of around 85m², a smartphone, a car – not unusual in Germany where very few have to do without these or similar material goods. But in Malawi the world is different. The majority of the country’s around 14 million inhabitants live on less than 1.25 US dollars a day – as such below the poverty level.  According to the United Nation’s Human Development Index, this small landlocked country in Southern Africa numbers among the 15 poorest countries in the world. With the exception of one North-South route, the roads are almost impassable. Frequent floods cause supply problems. To sustainably improve these living conditions, the Cotton made in Africa initiative is working with the country’s cotton farmers and contributing to reducing poverty through trade.

Elias Bonomali is one of the people who has already profited from this partnership. He is the proud owner of a new house which he earned entirely on his own. On his 0.7 hectare field, about the size of a football field and very large by Malawi standards, cotton is one of the crops Bonomali plants. He learned how to sustainably cultivate his field in a training course, including measures that will immediately affect the next harvest: how to best prepare a field, the optimal time to plant the cotton seeds and how to remove weeds. Bonomali also knows how important long term planning is for his crops. To keep the ground covered and prevent excessive evaporation, he mulches his field, and he rotates crops to maintain the essential nutrients in the soil. Overall this helps conserve resources, which is a direct advantage for smallholder farmers.

Together with local partners, the Great Lakes Cotton firm and the Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), Cotton made in Africa supports around 60,000 smallholder farmers in Malawi plant their cotton more efficiently, increase yield and thus improve their incomes. In his very first year in the programme, the 2010/11 season, Elias Bonomali harvested 1,260 kilograms of cotton. A harvest of this size means a lot of hard work. Every morning around 5 am, this devout Moslem goes to the mosque to pray, then begins his tough workday in the cotton field. He doesn’t quit until 6 pm. “I have always been dreaming of having a better house. That motivated me to work especially hard“, says the farmer who works his field without any assistance. “Thanks to the advice of the Great Lakes Cotton Company, I earned almost 230,000 Malawi kwacha for my cotton.” The cotton farmer invested the majority of the around 1,380 euros in his new house. Brick walls, a solid roof and glass windows have considerably improved his living conditions. “Participating in CmiA has changed my life style. My life is better now. I sleep in a house with a tin roof, not in a hut with a straw roof that the rain comes through.”

In addition to his new house, Elias Bonomali also used his first harvest as a CmiA farmer to buy a bicycle and a mobile phone. In additional to the material goods that make Bonomali’s life and work easier, the Malawian is particularly happy about one other aspect: the standing he has won in his village. “People here talk about me; I am a famous man now, who other farmers ask for advice when it comes to growing cotton.”