By Alick Ponje:
A prolonged period of famine that was experienced in Namakango Village, Traditional Authority Mponda, in Mangochi District few years ago, finally falters in the immense fields of cassava and maize that abound in the remote location.
Roadsides and footpath edges in the flat area, accessed through a rugged earth road that branches off the Mangochi- Monkey motorway at Maldeco Trading Centre, are bursting with healthy crops which were like gold dust just two or three years ago.
Patuma Paudala and her husband used to till their huge piece of land whose blackish soils seem perfectly nourished to produce attractive harvests.
“But hunger often struck my family,” Patuma says as she and her husband tend their cassava field, which has trees with huge boughs here and there for supplementing nutrients.
Every morning, Paudala would wake up and gaze at the maize which withered slowly as rains disappeared and a torrid air wafted across the village which has sparsely-located houses.
The next day would confirm his worst fears. Maize stalks that needed just some cool weather and a few drops of water to live would finally die, their leaves turning brown, succumbing to weather patterns that had only begun visiting the area six years or so ago.
“The prolonged period of dry spells meant survival was a difficult affair. We had to work in other people’s fields to make ends meet,” Patuma recalls.
She had heard about climate change and its devastating effects on crop production but, like many others in Malawi’s rural locations, it seemed impossible that her family would be affected.
So, when rains fell and took an unnecessarily long break six years ago, she imagined it was just one of those conventional occurrences that came to pass once in a while.
But the incidence got repeated the following year and the year after next until it dawned on her family that the pattern was becoming standard and required some braver response.
“It was when we started cultivating cassava, which proved to be drought-resistant, that things started to improve,” Patuma’s husband, Paudala, recounts.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change recommends clear understanding of how people, particularly those in rural areas, can respond to effects of climate change.
The United Nations agency calls for understanding of climate change, its causes and effects among the worst affected, who are poor people.
It also advises states to ensure people are constantly reminded about their actions which precipitate climate change and how they can mitigate them.
The only-mild progress that Patuma’s household made after shifting to cassava cultivation told her that they were lacking something.
“While we were able to get something from our toil, we discovered that, elsewhere, our colleagues were doing much better,” Paudala states.
The not-so-impressive harvest also attracted Malawi Lake Basin Programme (MLBP) which, moved by the fervent efforts of this household which was not reaping in line with what it was sowing, propped up its hard work.
The consortium of We Effect, Farmers Union of Malawi, Malawi Union of Savings and Credit Cooperatives, National Association of Smallholder Farmers in Malawi and Vi Agroforestry provided Patuma’s household with cassava stalks for planting.
“We immediately registered an increase in our harvest when we grew the cassava that [MLBP] gave us,” Patuma says.
The verdant fields that surround her house attest to such sentiments. As they bow gently in a cool breeze that blows cross Namakango Village—typically known for searing weather—the family of two is confident about where to get their next meal.
The situation is what MLBP Natural Resources Management Officer for Mangochi, Kelvin Guta, was hoping for when he engaged households in the lakeshore district on how they can mitigate effects of climate change on food security.
“We work with farmers to improve their lives in terms of food and wealth. We advise them on farming methods and crop varieties that resist effects of climate change,” Guta says.
His first impression when he toured crop fields in Mangochi was that many households were using agriculture methods that only worsened their food security challenges.
Now, he marvels at the fruits of his extension services, which are making many households food secure.
“Most of them were growing crops without thinking about challenges brought about by climate change. They could persistently grow the same crop on a field for years,” Guta says.
And the iron sheets that Patuma and her husband have procured for a modern house make Guta glory in his efforts which respond to MLBP’s objectives of improving livelihoods of rural poor households through sustainable management of agriculture resources.
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