Enduring pangs of changing climate

RESILIENT—Masingi in her field

By Tiwonge Kampondeni:

The 2022-23 growing season had started on a promising note for Smith Kalambo, 60, from Lasha Village under Traditional Authority (TA) Kyungu in Karonga District.

The forecast gave Kalambo the courage to prepare most of his land, which he was not able to use in previous years. He planted different crops, with maize dominating.


Kalambo thought he had prepared well enough for a bumper yield, until a prolonged dry spell hit most parts of the district. Kalambo has lost almost all his crops.

“For over a month, we did not experience good rainfall. Unfortunately, that was the time I had just applied top dressing fertiliser. Two weeks passed without any rains and, then, we had some showers which were followed by a two-week dry spell. My crops, especially maize, have been destroyed,” Kalambo said.

His field is a sorry sight of water-stressed dull green crops, droopy with curled leaves.


“My land is over five acres. I am not sure if I will harvest any maize,” Kalambo laments.

Although they stay over 80 kilometres apart, Kalambo’s story is similar to that of Elina Msiska, 32, a mother of eight from Village Head Mwakhwawa, TA Wasambo.

“Look at my field; everything is gone. My family spends days without a proper meal.

It is tough; I don’t have money to buy food. Previously, I would do part-time work in some people’s fields. However, the dry spell has left all the fields devastated,” Msiska said.

Kalambo and Msiska’s stories apply to many farmers in the district, especially those who continue practising conventional ways of farming. A few farmers like Chuma Chithu Farmer Field School (FFS) members, who have adopted climate-smart agriculture, have a different story.

The field school, which is a women’s grouping has, since last year, been working on finding solutions to their farming challenges.

The women are experimenting with technologies that are resilient to climate change shocks. They, among other things, demonstrate farming using different types of manure.

FFS is a participatory approach that brings together a group of small-scale farmers to find a localised solution to a particular need through promoting viable agriculture practices in their localities.

“We have four plots, with the first one using “Chinadango” manure. We used “Bokash” manure in the second plot.

“We used “Khola” manure in the third plot while the fourth plot was set aside and no manure was applied. The objective is for farmers to have a choice from the four practices. Coincidentally, this year we have a dry spell but our maize fields are not affected at all,” says Jane Masingi, who is the treasurer for the FFS.

To enhance resilience to the adverse effects of climate change, farmers like Frank Khunga from TA Kyungu are practising conservation agriculture.

Khunga adopted the use of early maturing varieties of maize to reduce the cultivation period and utilise short duration rainfall. He also planted with the first rains.

“We had the first rainfall on December 1 2022, and I planted on December 2. I planted an early maturing variety and by the time we started having dry spells, my crop stand was well advanced, so I haven’t been affected much by the disaster,” Khunga said.

Apart from conservation agriculture, Khunga followed other climate-smart technologies such as the use of manure and crop residue incorporation.

“I started with manure and only applied a small amount of fertiliser later. I am happy that my maize is ready for harvest,” he said.

The story of Chuma Chithu Farmer Field School and Khunga illustrates how climate-smart agriculture technologies are building resilience of farmers in a changing climate.

According to a Karonga District Council report, the dry spell has affected 8,742 hectares of maize (35.5 percent of the total estimated area under maize) among 29,718 farming households, translating to a total destruction of 16,040 metric tonnes.

Rice has a total of 10,752 hectares affected (81.5 percent of total estimated area that was to be planted) with a production loss of 33059 metric tonnes.

A total of 1,444 hectares of ground nuts (31.7 percent of total estimated area) with 4,413 farming households have also been affected, as well as 59 hectares of burley tobacco for 219 farming households.

Chief Land Resources Conservation Officer for Karonga Agriculture Development Division (ADD), Kufasi Shela, says that it is clear that those who adopted climate-smart agriculture technologies have promising crops’ stand unlike those who did not.

“For farmers who strictly adopted smart agriculture technologies, there is hope that they will harvest something, but for those who did not, indications are clear that they might have lost their crops,” Shela said.

Director of Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources for Karonga District Council Raphael Mkisi said farmers are encouraged to practice climate-smart agriculture as the practice contributes to moisture conservation, which is critical for crop survival during dry spells.

Mkisi also urged farmers in the district to be growing drought resistant crops such as cassava.

The Meteorological Department Forecast of the 2022-23 growing season indicated that Karonga District would experience a dry spell of about two weeks but, instead, some areas did not have rainfall for a month.

Most of the areas did not receive rainfall in February and on average the district had two rain days and the amount less than 20mm despite the district being a very hot area.

Malawi is an agri-based economy contributing 36 percent to the country’s GDP, 87 percent to the total job provision and remains one of the important sources of income as it accounts for 65.3 percent of the total income of the rural poor.

Agriculture is also key in achieving the second UN Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030.

In the 2021-22 season, over 3 million people were declared food insecure. To ensure a food-secure future, farming must become climate resilient.—Mana

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