Published on 05/01/24

Georgia Peanut Tour inspires Malawi to host first groundnut tour

By Allison Floyd
Pyxus employees hold show a map of sites whire the Feed the Future Innovation Lab works with local farmers on groundnut trials.
A representative of Pyxus Agriculture Malawi shows a map explaining the various sites where the Feed the Future Peanut Innovation Lab works with 147 local farmers, Pyxus and the national agriculture program in Malawi. The demonstration was part of the 2024 Groundnut Tour in Malawi, a three-day event modeled after the Georgia Peanut Tour. (Photo by Allison Floyd)

Ten years ago, the Georgia Peanut Tour welcomed its first visitor from the Southern African nation of Malawi, where peanuts are part of the local cuisine but are mostly grown in small gardens or bought in informal markets. Over the next decade, visitors from Malawi attended the tour every year, traveling halfway around the world to see how farmers, shellers, researchers and others work together to get a large crop of peanuts to consumers every year.

Much like south Georgia, agriculture drives the economy in Malawi, and farming is a way of life for much of the population. As demand for tobacco dropped over recent years, Malawi’s farmers turned to peanuts — or groundnuts, as they are called in Africa — as a new cash crop.

That transition made the Georgia Peanut Tour a valuable resource for agricultural leaders in Malawi looking to organize peanut production, improve extension systems and scale up shelling and storage.

Creating Malawi's tour

In April, Malawi debuted its 2024 Groundnut Tour, attracting visitors from across the continent to learn how the industry has developed in the country.

“Each year, we look forward to the Georgia Peanut Tour as a week when peanut people from across the U.S. and Malawi can get together and talk about different aspects of peanut production and marketing, including how we plant and harvest the crop, control pests, manage seed systems, test for aflatoxin and other topics,” said Jamie Rhoads, assistant director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Peanut, which is headquartered in the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“To be able to replicate a tour in Malawi fulfilled a dream for a lot of people, and it is great to be part of it.”

The Innovation Lab, funded through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), operates in several African countries to improve peanut production and processing while promoting peanuts as a source of nutrition and developing new markets. Work in Malawi is organized through a project funded by USAID and the Republic of Ireland.

The production scale in Malawi is very different than in the U.S., with most farmers working only 1 or 2 acres. Most of the labor – from planting to harvesting to shelling — is done by hand.

Despite these challenges, Malawi’s government has declared a goal to produce 1 million metric tons of groundnuts by 2030, an ambitious campaign that would more than double the current production.

Seeking new markets

Precious Mtengezo explains ongoing research to a crowd at the 2024 Groundnut Tour in Malawi.
From right, Todd Applegate, CAES assistant dean for international programs, stands with the crowd as Precious Mtengezo, who earned a master’s degree with support from the Peanut Innovation Lab, explains ongoing trial research at the 2024 Groundnut Tour in Malawi. (Photo by Allison Floyd)

Because Africa’s population is growing, improving peanut production practices will allow its farmers to create the supply to feed more people, said Bob Parker, the former president and CEO of the National Peanut Board, the organization that represents U.S. peanut farmers.

Parker gave the keynote speech on the third day of the tour, urging decision-makers in Malawi to look within Africa for a market. While population growth in the U.S. and Europe is mostly stagnant, Africa will see a population boom over the next 20 years that will lead to increased food demand.

“It’s hard to grow an industry that is already mature. When you look at growing the peanut industry in Malawi, I think you have a great opportunity, considering the population growth here, in the countries around you and in this part of the world,” Parker told the crowd. “I encourage you to consider how you can harness that growth and increased demand.”

Much like its Georgia progenitor, the Malawi tour included two days of visits to research stations, farms, a buying point and a shelling plant, plus a day of hot-topic discussions. The event attracted visitors from across Eastern and Southern Africa, USAID representatives, Ireland's ambassador to Malawi, and the diplomatic representative for the U.S. Embassy.

“This week, we are hosting people from across the world who are in the groundnut industry to see what we are doing to improve the production of groundnuts in Malawi. After that, we expect to see an increase in the number of farmers who will be producing different types of groundnuts for products within the region, but also outside of the continent,” said Sam Kawale, Malawi’s minister of agriculture.

Industry buy-in

Tadala Rambiki, groundnut production manager for the international agricultural company Pyxus, participated in the Georgia Peanut Tour in 2019. He was particularly interested in stops at buying points operated by Birdsong Peanuts and Sasser 520 and at JLA Laboratories, which tests for contaminants like aflatoxin.

Peanut Innovation Lab Assistant Director Jamie Rhoads explains a point to Ireland’s ambassador to Malawi, Seamus O’Grady; Malawi’s minister of agriculture Sam Kawale; and the U.S. Embassy in Malawi’s chargé d’affaires Amy Diaz at the third day of the 2024 Groundnut Tour in Malawi.
From left, Peanut Innovation Lab Assistant Director Jamie Rhoads speaks with Ireland’s ambassador to Malawi, Seamus O’Grady; Malawi’s minister of agriculture, Sam Kawale; and the U.S. Embassy in Malawi’s chargé d’affaires, Amy Diaz, at the third day of the 2024 Groundnut Tour in Malawi. (Submitted photo)

“The visit was indeed helpful in envisaging how we can scale up production and processing,” he said. “For instance, from the tour, we embarked on research to determine risky components for aflatoxin in groundnuts in partnership with the Peanut Innovation Lab and LUANAR (Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources),” he said. “After the brief and discussion at the JLA lab, having understood the various test procedures and methodologies, we also sought to develop and validate a testing procedure for peanuts at Pyxus.”

At the time, Pyxus was brainstorming a grading system to evaluate the size and quality of peanuts at buying points and looking to build a shelling factory in Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe.

Today, Pyxus buys and shells more than 5,000 metric tons of peanuts a year through 10,000 contracted farmers who receive inputs and extension advice from the company. The company also runs its own aflatoxin testing lab and turns peanut shells into pellets for fuel, a value-added product.

Pyxus’ farmers, on average, grow only 1 hectare (about 2.5 acres) of groundnuts. To help those farmers adopt new technologies and increase their productivity, the Peanut Innovation Lab is working with 147 of Pyxus’ lead farmers to run demonstration trials. Known as Groundnut Research Extension and Adoption of Technology (GREAT) trials, the idea is to start with a control plot that includes no improved practices, then incrementally increase inputs such as double-row planting, inoculant, fungicide and legume fertilizer, into a bundle. By evaluating individual and packaged inputs, these trials help farmers find the best production packages for their fields.

“This first tour in Malawi has been a resounding success in bringing people from all sectors in the groundnut space in Malawi and its partners together to exchange ideas celebrate achievements and set targets,” said Ron Ngwira, managing director of Pyxus Agriculture Malawi. “It has been a concerted effort of many sponsors, organizers and teams of people making it a well-executed event all around.”

To learn more about international developments fostered through the Innovation Lab for Peanut at UGA, visit

For visuals of the tour, check out the following video:

Allison Floyd is the PR coordinator for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Peanut, which is headquartered at UGA.