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A giant food security leap

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There are people in the world so hungry, said Mahatma Gandhi, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.

The sentiments—subtle as they may appear and sacred as they may intend—transcend the dictates of time, not because of the immense figure behind them but because hunger remains one of the most stubborn cravings for which humanity has no alternative solution.

And for a country like Malawi, where food security has yet again become a multifaceted fundamental discourse in every sector, hunger has also become some naïve political slogans which fail to feed people though.

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The effects of climate change —where weather patterns continue defying conventional predictions—have left us hoping to God a miracle will appear in the course of time.

But as world leaders continue proclaiming that humans have created problems for which they have to find solutions, long-term endeavours of rehabilitating the environment mean short-term means of feeding ourselves must be explored.

And for over a million times, irrigation has been billed as the current redeemer, even though its presence is million miles away from reaching the point of saving the country.

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Nevertheless, there are those that are willing to explore and expand irrigation not only for themselves but for many others in need too.

Such struggles, by individuals in whose eyes their beneficiaries see the ultimatum of sacrifice and grace, may seem small but for a country that is alighting its eyes on every willing guardian angel, every small leap is essential for salvation.

Take the case of Sanga Cooperative Society (SCS) in one of the remotest areas of Dowa: here, there is open defiance towards where and how irrigation cannot take place.

Eighty-three families from within a radius of 10 kilometres extending into Traditional Authorities (T/As) Kayembe and Chakhadza have been allocated a quarter-acre plot each on the irrigation scheme for which their only contribution is their energy.

“The passion to engage in this kind of farming is deep. All I do is wake up and start taking care of my maize which I should be harvesting any time soon. We are given seed, fertiliser and we even don’t pay anything for the pumps and all equipment that we use for irrigating our crops,” says Dyson Mkutuwa, one of the farmers benefiting from the project.

He is extremely hopeful that he will harvest enough to keep his family of six going for some considerable time before he can get back to the normal season which, of course, continues being impaired by adverse weather patterns.

The deep-green robust stalks carrying healthy cobs on his plot speak volumes of ultimate care and reinforces the picture that irrigation is possible as long as there is will—both political and individual combined or supported together.

Mkutuwa’s story is not different from those of Amos Magaba and Labita Muyande who also chanced upon getting allocated plots on the scheme.

Muyande, particularly, cannot believe that all such good things are for free. But one sure thing she puts close to her heart is that they will come to an end, and sustainability will be her responsibility.

She says the scheme—which is in its first phase—has come at no better time as hundreds of households in its vicinity did not harvest enough to take them to the next ‘normal’ growing season.

“I wake up every morning thinking about farming because it has been made easy,” she says while irrigating her maize using a hosepipe that has snaked its way through dozens other fields from the 240 metres by 670 metres dam which is being expanded so that it can serve 1,000 farmers.

She is a woman of advanced years but she is reinvigorated by the benevolence that she says is difficult to find elsewhere.

“At first, the pipes for irrigating our crops were not enough but now everything is working perfectly. All this so that our families are food secure and we will not pay anything in return after harvesting. Is that something that happens on a normal day? We are blessed beyond measure,” Muyande boasts.

The scheme—which continues being expanded and the water pump consuming 20 litres of diesel every day—would compel a visitor to assume it is being run by some huge multi-national enterprise which expects to reap maximum benefits at the end.

But for Napoleon Dzombe, there is no greater service to humanity than that which helps them to live.

Without any assistance from anyone; without expecting any form of reward from the farmers; the businessman and local philanthropist took upon himself to empower the households “because handouts have never been sustainable”.

Like Bill Gates once said innovations that are guided by smallholder farmers, adapted to local circumstances and sustainable for the economy and the environment will be necessary to ensure food security in the future.

That seems to be Dzombe’s philosophy. He looks at the needs of locals and what they can afford as far as sustainable food security is concerned and gives them the starting point.

And the multimillion kwacha irrigation project attests to that.

“Together we are fighting hunger and the best way is to be directly involved in farming. We want to extend the dams so that we can harvest more rains when they come,” says Dzombe, who is involved in several other projects to serve humanity.

He views the establishment of the irrigation project as an investment, yet he has nothing to gain at the end of the day, so it seems.

“Well, it is an investment for the support of people. Not every effort has to benefit the doer; we must always heed the cries of others and, where possible, we must meet their needs. So we must not be afraid of investing in projects that serve humanity,” Dzombe says.

In fact, he hopes that someone will take over the project and continue supporting food-insecure households so that he can start another one elsewhere.

That might seem pretty too ambitious in the mind of an average person because another new project will entail another pumping of millions of kwacha but Dzombe is optimistic that with the little that he has, a significant contribution can be made to produce giant leaps.

“Passion is the guiding principle. Every journey starts with a single step and we hope that by and by, our contribution to dealing with food insecurity will be greater,” Dzombe says.

Well, his name might not be very common among us but that is mostly the case with modest benefactors who seldom seek the limelight. In fact, this write-up might never have seen the light of the day if not for the obdurate entreaty that from his acts of benevolence others would borrow a leaf.

For instance, Dzombe was among the top 10 nominees in the World Bank Greenbelt Initiative Awards for Africa; he was voted Community Leader of the Year in 2006 by Diversity Leader, 2009 Nation Achiever and 2012 Nu-Skin Lifetime Achiever.

The School of Agriculture for Family Independence (safi), which is less than a kilometre from the irrigation project, was also started by Dzombe and Nu Skin —an American multilevel marketing company— took over so that he could concentrate on other initiatives.

Now, the school has 35 families from different districts including Ntchisi, Lilongwe, Balaka, Mzimba and Blantyre who are learning nutrition, fisheries, livestock, agroforestry, horticulture and many more.

The school’s administrator, Gloria Banda, says the aim of the trainings, which last one year and have been taking place since 2007, is to equip the families with agriculture skills so that they improve productivity.

“Once they leave, we follow up and so far, we have seen that things significantly change in their families. They have enough food,” she says.

And seeing that his Safi dream continues bearing fruits, Dzombe wants to open another school for skills development and value addition.

He is adamant about its success and from him lessons about ultimate service to humanity ought to be learnt. Perhaps, we can then deal with this frightening food insecurity.

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