By Trouble Hlupo Ziba:
When William Laison rides his motorcycle every morning, what immediately comes to one’s mind is that he is a motorcycle taxi rider rushing to pick up a customer somewhere.
However, the 45-year-old from Traditional Authority Nkaya in Balaka actually rides his motorcycle to his crop field on the bank of Shire River.
He is a member and Chairperson of Chisoni Irrigation Scheme under Utale Extension Planning Area (EPA) in the Eastern Region district.
He bought his motorcycle in 2019 after selling his farm produce. The achievement has eased his mobility challenges and reduced time he used to spend to and from his garden on daily basis.
Chisoni Irrigation Scheme was established in 2006 by one family, but grew to be 85-member strong which it is today, as more farmers joined the scheme.
Each farmer works on a 0.4 hectare of land on average, except for Laison who concedes that he has taken advantage of his position to own a bigger piece.
Farmers under the scheme realised bumper harvests in the 2019/20 season courtesy of a financial boost by Sustainable Agriculture Production Program (Sapp) through its Village Challenge Fund (VCF) window.
“We submitted our proposal to Sapp which was approved and we got K4.5 million to boost our irrigation farming,” Laison says.
He says the money was used to buy four motorised water pumps, pipes, fertiliser, sprayers, maize seed, vegetable seed and chemicals.
The other chunk, he says, was used for training farmers in crop monitoring, event recording, identification of pests and diseases and their prevention and control.
Other areas the farmers got trained in are conservation agriculture and seed multiplication of sweet potatoes.
With the financial boost, Laison says the farmers were able to intensify irrigation farming by growing crops such as maize, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplants and beans.
The farmers attribute the K11 million amount of money realised from the sale of their crops this year, to the financial boost from Sapp.
Laison says this is the biggest amount realised since the farmer group started irrigation farming.
He says the figure reflects an increase of K3 million if compared with the K8 million they realised in the 2018/19 season when he bought his motorcycle and before benefiting from VCF.
“Success in farming depends on availability of inputs and materials. With the money we were given, we bought a lot of inputs and materials to enhance our crop production.
“We have made a big profit this year as a scheme. We will ensure we regularly maintain our water pumps with the money so we can use them for a long time,” says Laison who has two children in secondary school.
As an individual, he boasts that he realised K500,000 from farming in 2019. He used K280,000 to buy the motorcycle he rides to his crop fields today.
By first week of October, Laison had just sold the first round of his crops and had realised K220,000. He hopes to have more money this year than in 2019 when he bought the motorcycle.
The change in livelihood due to farming is not unique to Laison. Other members of the irrigation scheme are in the same lane.
“Most of the farmers you see here have houses with corrugated iron sheets,” Laison said when journalists visited the irrigation scheme recently.
Winter cropping and livestock keeping offer the best answer to the frequently drought-hit district which is also prone to fall army worms.
“Owing to droughts the district faces almost annually, we also encourage farmers to rear chickens, goats and other kinds of livestock,” says Balaka Chief Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Officer, Denis Zingeni.
In the 2016/17 season, about 40,000 hectares of maize were affected by the pest in the district. In the 2019/20 season, 12, 000 hectares of the staple grain were affected, according to Zingeni.
To curb the problem, the agriculture expert says farmers are trained in how to identify the pest early.
Utale EPA’s Agriculture Extension Development Coordinator (AEDC), Bexter Soko says one of his duties is to relay to farmers all information that would save their crops and increase production.
Such information includes weather forecast, signs of pests and diseases, their control and other agriculture-related information.
For instance, Soko says has already advised farmers to keep some money from their crop sales so that they can buy inputs under the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP).
Talandira Poultry Group of Mbulumbuzi EPA in Chiradzulu has also benefited from Sapp’s VCF to construct a building they could use to sell dressed chickens.
With the funds, the group has also bought a refrigerator and procured a solar power gadget to power the appliance so that they can use it to preserve the dressed chickens waiting to be sold.
Mwaiwadza Cooperative, a groundnut seed multiplication farmer group in Lirangwe EPA in Blantyre, also received a K7-million boost through the same window to construct a warehouse which is near completion.
The cooperative’s secretary, Edith Makawa, says she has benefited a lot from being in this farmer group.
She says from trainings they went through, she is now able to access information on how to take care of groundnuts from planting stage to the time the grain is transported from the garden and to the market.
For a farmer group to qualify and benefit from VCF, they must have a constitution, a bank account with a recognised commercial bank and be recognised by the district agriculture office.
Forming farmer groups, engaging in irrigation farming, diversifying farming and practicing conservation agriculture are some of the practices various agriculture stakeholders advocate for among farmers.
Such practices are improving Laison’s livelihood and those of other members of his group.
“If you come in the next two to three years, I will not be alone riding a motorcycle to the garden every morning. Many of will be doing that,” he told journalists.
Sapp is being implemented within the government of Malawi Agriculture Sector Wide Approach in Lilongwe, Nkhotakota, Balaka, Chiradzulu, Blantyre and Chitipa districts