By Feston Malekezo:
Lusungu Mzembe was one of the 6.5 million people who were affected by one of the worst droughts on record that occurred in 2016 in Malawi. The drought was induced by the El Niño weather phenomenon.
She was 27 then. Her husband had just passed away. The drought compelled her to sell household property to feed her two children.
She recalls selling banana flitters but things still did not work.
“I then joined a group of fellow women who were also doing small-scale businesses. There, again, I did not succeed as I kept making losses. Life was a struggle. Then in 2018, a certain organisation came with what they called climate-smart agriculture and I joined it,” Mzembe says.
Through that kind of agriculture, the women are encouraged to grow crops which are resilient to climate change.
Mzembe, now chairperson of the cluster called Homero Women Group from Ntchenachena Extension Planning Area (EPA) in Rumphi District, is optimistic about fighting poverty and food insecurity.
“We are a group of 12 members and, in January this year, we started growing improved varieties of sweet potatoes like Mathuthu and Kadyaubwerere. These crops, apart from containing Vitamin A, also mature early and do well in times of drought.
“The future looks bright for us because we have sufficient food and are also generating funds by selling seeds. We have established good markets and more opportunities are opening up for us,” she says.
Another female farmer, Gertrude Botha, of Chiwerewere Village, Traditional Authority Kachulu in Rumphi District, agrees with Mzembe, saying climate-smart agriculture is economically empowering them.
She is into paprika farming which she says is making good money for her.
“I opted for paprika farming because it doesn’t need fertiliser. Instead, I use manure which I make on my own. By using manure, I am able to save money which I would be spending on fertiliser. I have bought a number of household items and I am paying school fees for my children using the proceeds of paprika farming,” said Botha.
The women are receiving technical expertise from Civil Society Network on Climate Change (Cisonecc) which is implementing a Gender Climate Change Agriculture Support Programme (GCCASP) in Chiweta and Ntchenachena (EPAs) in Rumphi District.
The organisation has so far established seven women clubs that are growing cassava and sweet potatoes apart from being involved in other interventions like manure making and adding value to crops like paprika, groundnuts and tomatoes.
Ntchenachena EPA Extension Worker, Kondwani Ngwira, says they are encouraging women to grow crops that are resilient to climate change.
“Sweet potato is one of the crops that are tolerant to climate change and do well even when rains are not enough. We are also recommending soybeans, which are tolerant to drought,” Ngwira says.
Ngwira adds that the farmers are encouraged to do market research before growing their crops.
“Markets for sweet potatoes are readily available, especially during the months of October, November and December when the potatoes are scarce,” he says.
Apart from empowering women to grow crops that are resilient to climate change, Cisonecc is also encouraging them to take part in the conservation of natural resources.
Traditional Authority Jalawe of Rumphi District is upbeat that, with initiatives towards conservation of natural resources, climate change adaptation would be easy.
“Women should be empowered to take part in aforestation because they are controllers of the house and they are the ones that suffer most from effects of climate change. I encourage all women to dedicate their time to fighting climate and conserving the environment,” the local ruler says.
Cisonecc National Coordinator, Julius Ng’oma, says his organisation piloted climate-smart agriculture strategies in order to enhance the capacity of poor farming households and communities.
Ng’oma says the initiative will ensure that vulnerable women farmers have access to livelihood productive resources, knowledge and services.
“The objective is to promote participation of women smallholder farmers in economic and value chain-based agricultural production and analysis and to build the capacity of women farmers in evidence-based advocacy at local level.
“Since January this year, we have introduced a number of interventions. Some of them include seed multiplication of cassava, sweet potato and manure making. We have seen some good progress within the three months,” Ng’oma says.
President of Coalition of Women Farmers in Malawi, Ellen Matupi, says women should be empowered with skills to fight climate change.
“It seems climate change has come to stay because books are telling us that rivers will flood, dry areas will be drier, wet areas will be wetter and islands will sink. Therefore, we have to stand up to conserve nature because we are heavily affected.”
In the programme, which is being implemented in Machinga and Rumphi districts, Cisonecc is working with support from Nepad through the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare.
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