‘From a 50kg bag of inorganic fertiliser, we are able to make five bags of Mbeya. We save a lot of money which would go to fertiliser procurement while also boosting our crop yields’
Dorica Kondwani, 36, of Mkhwayi Village, Traditional Authority (TA) Kadewere in Chiradzulu District, woke up one day feeling like she could not go on with life anymore.
It seemed a very useless affair.
Kondwani recalls frequently going to bed on an empty stomach together with her four children because she could barely yield enough maize to sustain the family to the next harvesting season.
“It was heart-breaking seeing my children go to bed hungry. They would even go to school without taking breakfast because we did not have food in the house,” she says.
Her family used to harvest a maximum of five 50 kilogramme (kg) bags of the staple grain every growing season.
The International Food Policy Research Institute says food security in Malawi is generally equated with adequate maize production, a crop that accounts for more than 60 percent of total food production.
Additionally, per capita maize consumption in the country is said to average 129kg per year.
This means the five 50kg bags were being consumed by Kondwani’s family for less than five months. The remaining period to the next harvest would be covered by food sporadically accessed after sporadic piecework.
The rising cost of inorganic fertiliser and soil degradation due to excessive use of such fertilisers contributed to Kondwani failing to reap optimal yields from her toil.
“I depend on farming and animal rearing on a small scale to fend for my family. Farming is all I know; so when the yields are inadequate, we suffer,” the subsistence farmer says.
Monica Mwambisi, 26, of Ngumwiche Village, TA Mpama in the same district, had a similar experience concerning food security.
“I would harvest less than five bags of maize. They were not enough to feed my family of six,” Mwambisi says.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says women take up a big chunk of subsistence farming in African countries such as Malawi.
FAO concludes that if properly organised and supported, the women can help households and communities achieve food security.
When Kondwani and her colleagues from Mkhwayi Village had had enough, they decided to come together to form a village loans and savings group where they save and borrow money at low interest rates.
The group, Masalani Club, has over 20 women and the proceeds from the contributions and interests are used to buy farming inputs such as hybrid seed.
The women also rear livestock whose waste is used to make organic fertiliser which is billed to be significant in retaining lost soil richness.
“Since the inception of the group in 2019, our lives have changed for the better,” Kondwani brags.
Her family now harvests enough maize to take them through to the next harvest. There even is surplus to sell with the money used for other household needs, she says.
In their group, the women make organic fertiliser dubbed Mbeya and plant trees to dress bare patches and trap rainwater.
“In the past, we did not care about trees because we thought they are unimportant, until an agriculture extension worker visited and taught us the importance of planting trees,” Kondwani says.
The group has reportedly planted over 10 thousand trees so far in several locations within the village.
The organic fertiliser, which is contributing to improved crop yields, is made by mixing 10kg of inorganic fertiliser such as NPK or Urea, 20kg of maize husk and 20kg of animal waste with five litres of water.
The blend is left to ferment for a couple of days before the final product is ready for application to crops.
“From a 50kg bag of inorganic fertiliser, we are able to make five bags of Mbeya. We save a lot of money which would go to fertiliser procurement while also boosting our crop yields,” Kondwani says.
Agriculture extension experts tout Mbeya fertiliser as ideal for farmers who are feeling the pinch of erratic weather patterns in which dry spells are also prevalent.
They say the organic soil stimulant keeps moisture in crop fields for longer periods.
Chiradzulu District Director of Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, Lusungu Mtokale, states that organic fertiliser restores soil fertility.
“The manure adds nutrients to the soil without affecting its fertility while inorganic fertilisers lower the fertility of the soil if used regularly,” Mtokale says.
She dares more farmers to have a shot at combining manure and inorganic fertiliser like members of Masalani Club are doing.
“They will reap bumper harvests. As a result, they will be food secure and will improve their families’ nutrition. As a district, we are not faring well on food security,” Mtokale says.
The endeavours of women such as Kondwani are in sync with Sustainable Development Goal 2 which tackles ending of hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture.
The goal recognises the interlinkages between supporting sustainable agriculture, empowering small-scale farmers, promoting gender equality, ending rural poverty, ensuring healthy lifestyles and tackling climate change.
Kondwani says services of agriculture extension officer from Chiradzulu District Agriculture Office, Max Mtiwa, have propped up crop production for the women.
“He has been guiding us on modern farming methods. Our yields have greatly improved. We are a community free from hunger and malnutrition,” she boasts.
Mtiwa also acknowledges that people in Mkhwayi Village and surrounding areas used to face several challenges which impended optimal agriculture production.
“This area is feeling the impact of climate change. It is not receiving the kind of rainfall it used to, so we introduced farming methods that keep moisture in the fields,” he says.
Mtiwa harks back to the time when households in the area could harvest too little from their big fields and wonders how the situation could be now if the old ways were not chucked out of farming.
“I looked at farming techniques that would work in Chiradzulu. Now, there is enough food. Some people are even selling the surplus and building houses using the proceeds,” he narrates.
Member of Parliament for Chiradzulu East Joseph Nomale, in whose area Mkhwayi Village is, hails members of Masalani Club, for taking action on their own.
On his part, spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture Geoffrey Banda concurs with those who posit that the use of organic fertiliser is the best option in the midst of erratic weather patterns and declining soil richness.
“Our soil lacks nutrients and that is why we don’t produce enough food. Organic fertiliser puts nutrients back into the soil and, as a ministry, we are encouraging every farmer to use such fertiliser,” Banda says.
He views Parliament’s recent passing of the Fertiliser Bill, which promotes the use of organic fertiliser, as an important step towards improved agriculture production.
“Organic fertiliser is the cheapest as anyone can easily make it. The ministry and its partners have been training people on how to make this fertiliser for the past year.
“Over 100,000 farmers have been trained across the country and we are still training more. Our goal is to have many companies manufacturing organic fertiliser in Malawi,” Banda says.
Matilda Chimwaza Majawa is a Features Reporter at Times Group. She is passionate about women and girls empowerment.