Central Co-op Reflects on its First Year of Our Malawi Partnership

Posted by sam bishop | Published: 26/06/2023

Our Malawi Partnership launched last year on the 100th International Day of Co-operatives on 2nd July, a trade-aid initiative aiming to sustainably support farmers and producers in Malawi, supporting co-operative development, improving livelihoods, and helping to strengthen its trading capacity. Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, reliant on subsistence farming and affected by the climate crisis, with crops being rain fed.  

This Partnership manifested itself in a range of Malawi-linked products for Members and customers, covering key commodities including rice, tea, coffee, and nuts, and the range continues to expand, with the latest addition of Malawian Birdseye Chilli grinders this summer. 

This has been an excellent debut year for the Partnership, which has been nominated for The Salesforce Responsible Retailer Award at the Retail Week Awards, as well as being shortlisted for the Sustainability Initiative of the Year at the upcoming Grocer Gold Awards in July.  

Over £196,000 worth of product has been sold from the range in the last year, including over 12,000 bags of macadamia nuts; nearly 57,000 cups of tea across the three blends sold; and over 10,000 cups of Malawi coffee. 

The sixth co-operative principle is at the heart of the Partnership: Co-operation among Co-operatives. Our Malawi Partnership is built on collaboration and co-operation between Central Co-op, The Co-operative College, and the Malawi Federation of Co-operatives (MAFECO), who are the apex body of co-operatives in Malawi. Principle 6 was also demonstrated as the Society partnered with design agency Creative Co-op to develop a brand identity and supporting microsite

The Our Malawi Partnership range is supported by macadamia suppliers Nutcellars; Fairtrade nut company Liberation; tea and coffee from Revolver Co-op; rice from True Origin sourced from Northern Malawi; and One Water to support water and sanitation projects.  

The initiative’s workplans span 5 years and align to 8 U.N Sustainable Development Goals as well as with Malawi’s Vision 2063 plans to be ‘an inclusively wealthy and self-reliant nation by 2063.’. Co-operatives in Malawi are supported by MAFECO, addressing key issues like increasingly expensive fertiliser prices by learning how to produce organic fertiliser and learning co-operative governance.

Discussions have been opened with rice organisations to form into a co-operative structure, and the first tea union in Malawi has been created, keeping the careers of farmers and their families secure. This past year also saw the first annual investment to The One Foundation to support the initiative’s objectives to improve access to water and sanitation. This donation delivered disaster relief to tea growing co-operative communities following Cyclone Freddie earlier in 2023. 

There is much more to come in this long-term partnership, as a bamboo planting pilot is being tested, and Central Co-op is always keen to encourage other co-operatives here in the UK to get involved with Our Malawi Partnership.  

Debbie Robinson, Chief Executive, said: “We’re one year into Our Malawi Partnership and have sold nearly £200,000 worth of products from our Malawi range, planting dozens more macadamia trees and helping farmers tackle issues like increasing costs by providing training on how to produce their own organic fertilizer. Our commitment to international co-operative development continues, and we’re focused on how we can continue to grow the Partnership, welcoming more Co-ops to the development fund to expand our reach and impact.” 

“Co-operatives led the introduction and development of fair trade nationally and internationally. The market has caught up, own brand ranges of fair trade products available in most retailers. The International Co-operative Development Fund moves forward the fair trade agenda, it puts Co-ops back in a leadership position and shows the impact co-operation can have in sustainably improving the livelihoods of farmers and producers. If you’d like to join us on this journey, we’d love to hear from you.” 

For further details, head to the Our Malawi Partnership website. For more information on how to get involved and join the Co-operative International Development Fund, email Malawi.partnership@centralengland.coop  


About Central Co-op 

Central Co-op is one of the largest independent retail co-operative societies in the UK, with a heritage stretching back over 175 years and interests in food, funeral, floral and property investment.  

Owned by hundreds of thousands of members, its 7,700 colleagues serve customers across 440 plus trading sites in 21 counties in the East and West Midlands, Yorkshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.   

Its purpose is to create a sustainable Society for all.   

It actively campaigns for food justice and works with FareShare Midlands and a network of local food banks. It also adds £1 to every Healthy Start Voucher redeemed in store and supports six schools in partnership with Magic Breakfasts. 

The Society embraces inclusivity and equality and is a signed-up member to the Business in the Community (BITC) Race at Work Charter. The Society is also a member of Diversity in Retail and it is fully committed to addressing the impacts of climate change by reducing carbon and food waste, increasing recycling and investment in community Sustainable Spaces funded by the carrier bag levy. It recently launched its Malawi Partnership to support farmers and producers in the country through the Co-operative International Trading Development Fund.  

It invests a percentage of its trading profit into local communities through its Community Dividend Fund scheme which has seen over £109,769.25 shared out between 121 good causes in 2022. 

Press office contact: Sam Bishop, PR Specialist  

Contact details:   


07385 048048