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Farmers beat hunger amid shifting climate

EQUIPPED—Msokola (right) explains how climate-smart agriculture works

READY HARVEST—Msokola shows off cucumbers fresh from her garden

Hanna Msokola, a widowed smallholder farmer from Phanga Village in Traditional Authority Kabudula in Lilongwe, has successfully crossed the red line and is now safe from hunger induced by adverse effects of climate change.

When the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (Nasfam) introduced a climate-smart agriculture project in the area, Msokola was one of the farmers that quickly embraced and adopted new farming technologies.

She is a member of Ukwe Association, which falls under Kanjuzi Group Action Committee, at Lilongwe North Innovation Productivity Centre.

Msokola said her yields have tremendously improved since she adopted the new farming techniques, which allow her to still harvest something even when there has been a change in weather in the course of the growing season.

Nasfam initiated the project with funds from Irish Aid to ensure food security through increased productivity and income, adapting to climate change and contributing to climate change mitigation.

The project, which is being implemented in Balaka, Zomba, Lilongwe North, Kasungu, Mzimba South, Namwera in Machinga, Karonga and Ntchisi, was developed as a solution to food security challenges amid erratic climatic patterns.

Its objective is to increase the productivity of land through sustainable land management of soil and water resources.

The works also focus on building capacities of farmers and extension officers at local government level to build a climate change-resilient society.

Another component of the project was the distribution of seed rabbits to selected farmers who passed on to other farmers after the livestock gave birth.

Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Ireland, Mark Montgomery, recently visited Msokola’s area to monitor and appreciate the impact of the project on beneficiaries.

Msokola said she learned how to make compost manure using dung from the rabbits, ash and crop wastes.

“I mostly use compost manure on my farm. This is an alternative to chemical fertiliser, which contributes significantly to the degradation of the soil. So, we are taking decisive steps to move away from chemical fertilisers to save our soil from further degradation,” she said.

Emily Phoka, another beneficiary, said using skills gained from a series of training they attended, they have enhanced winter cropping in their efforts to eradicate food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty from their households.

Phoka said they are producing in large quantities all types of vegetables, beans, maize and cucumbers, which they sell to boost their families’ income.

However, she lamented the lack of markets that can offer competitive prices for their crops.

“We are making minimal profits from our labour because markets are not steady. Most of our harvest goes to waste because there is no reliable market,” Phoka said.

Group Village Head Phanga said the initiative is empowering smallholder farmers in his area to escape from abject poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

Phanga disclosed that most families can now afford three meals per day, which was not the case before.

But the traditional leader pointed out that lack of extension services was another challenge retarding agricultural development in the area.

“We call upon the government to collaborate with non-State actors such as Nasfam in addressing the problem of lack of extension services,” Phanga said.

Montgomery said he was impressed with the progress smallholder farmers are making towards building resilience and self-reliance on food and nutrition.

“We have been supporting Nasfam since 2007. So, it has been a long partnership and we are beginning to see the fruits of that as well as the huge potential in smallholder farmers,” he said.

Montgomery added that his government was also building the capacity of the association to enable it to add value to farm produce as one way of addressing the problem of post-harvest wastage.

He said the laboratory that Irish Aid recently installed at Nascomex, the commercial subsidiary of Nasfam, will help the association produce products of the right standards.

“Ireland is always ready to support. The most important thing is that the farmers themselves must be clear about what they want to achieve; that is, taking agriculture as business. Turning agriculture into a business is the greatest potential that Nasfam has and my government is ready to support,” Montgomery said.

Nasfam Chief Executive Officer Betty Chinyamunyamu said, through agro-processing and value addition, the association had assisted the farmers to increase income from their produce.

Chinyamunyamu added that the association was encouraging and promoting collective marketing to increase farmers’ chances of bargaining for better prices for their produce.

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