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Changing farmers’ fortunes

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BENEFITTING—Mandewere setting up a chicken kraal

By Isaac Salima:

Francis Mwakyea from Likwakwanda Village, Sub Traditional Authority Kwanjana in Thyolo District, is just a subsistent farmer.

He says he has been a laughing stock among folks in the village because he could not fend for his family.

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“I have four children, with farming as my main source of income. I have been struggling to fend for the family as I could only harvest six bags of maize per farming season,” Mwakyea said.

And Tidyane Grey from the same village had a similar experience until she joined a village saving and loans group, commonly known as Banki M’khonde.

“At first, each one of us contributed K10,000 which we used as capital to start the group. After some months we managed to share the proceeds, where each one of us got K16,000. I used the money to start a small business which I am doing now, which is helping me support the family,” Grey said.

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The two are among many villagers from Thyolo and Mulanje districts whose lives have been transformed through a Kulima Better Extension Transforming Economic Returns project that Self Help Africa has been implementing with support from the European Union.

The project, which started in 2018, is aimed at promoting sustainable agricultural growth in order to increase incomes, employment, food and nutrition among rural households.

The programme is reaching out to farmers with improved skills and knowledge so that they increase their agriculture productivity. It also helps smallholder farmers access climate change information, savings and loan facilities.

This saw the establishment of 13,400 farmer field schools which reached out to a total 350,000 smallholder farmers with modern farming techniques.

Through the schools, farmers discuss issues and experiment on possible solutions to local farming challenges.

Community-based facilitator, Joseph Mandewere, from Kavuye Village in Traditional Authority Kapichi in Thyolo District, testifies about the impact of the move.

“Our group [Mitengo Farmers Field School] consists of 30 members. Through the project, we were trained in poultry farming and good farming practices. Self Help Africa then assisted us to purchase chickens and we are now in chicken farming,” Mandewere said.

He said they are able to raise funds from proceeds of chicken sales.

“We use the money to embark on small-scale businesses and buy other necessities,” Mandewere said.

Thyolo District Council Director of Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Jackson Nkombezi described the project as a game changer in agriculture sector.

“Population has now increased and our field workers have been failing to reach out to more farming households on how to improve their farming. So the project lessened this burden as, through community based facilitators, more farmers have been reached,” Nkombezi said.

He further commended the project for reviving irrigation farming in the district.

“Heavy rains that the country experienced early this year destroyed some irrigation schemes and Safe Help Africa came up and rehabilitated four of these schemes and now farmers are happy to have restarted the plantations,” he said.

Safe Help Africa Programmes Manager for Thyolo Ranseck Nathan expressed delight that the project’s objectives have been achieved.

“We wanted to reach out to at least 103,000 farming households in Mulanje and Thyolo and, as we finish the project, we have at least made a difference to about 84,000 farmers. We are optimistic that the farmers will use the knowledge that they have gained to transform agriculture in the country,” Nathan said.

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