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Hope amid climatic shocks

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DINA—Time has come

Until 2020, 43-year-old Bertha Simenti of Chingondo II Village in Traditional Authority (TA) Ngabu in Chikwawa used to rely on farming for her livelihood.

Though dry, the area close to the Shire River is suitable for cash crops such as sorghum, sesame and cotton, which provide farmers with income.

The mother of three has been a farmer all her life and has fond memories of the past when she used to grow enough with which to feed her family and so sell.

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She would then use the money realised from the sale of the yield to buy other necessities apart from paying for her children’s education.

Life was less complicated then.

But things have changed over the years and, like other farmers in the area, Simenti wakes up every morning to find that the prevailing weather conditions pose a serious threat to her very livelihood and those of her children.

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“In the past, the land used to support us. We would grow cotton, sorghum, wow peas and sesame seed which we used to sell at a profit, but this is not the case now following the floods and adverse weather conditions that we are experiencing,” Simenti says.

She says back then, her village was not experiencing the floods which are fast becoming an annual occurrence in the Shire valley districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje.

But at the beginning of this year, her area was hit by tropical cyclones Ana and Gombe-induced floods that swept across the Southern Region.

“The floods destroyed two of my houses and my crops which were still in the fields to the extent that we do not expect to realise any yield from the fields this year,” a visibly worried Simenti explains.

The damage to crops by the floods is just one of the challenges Simenti and other farmers in the area are worried about this year.

The current hot weather conditions have also brought with them pests that the farmers in the area have never seen before.

Cotton and sorghum are the primary targets of the new visitors, according to Simenti.

“They (the pests) which we call kodikodi look like the current fall armyworm but they are not easily recognised in the fields. You just know about the attack later when you start observing that your crops, more especially cotton and sorghum, are wilting,” Simenti says.

According to Simenti, the farmers have been engaging extension workers on the new enemy to their crops but to no avail.

In the area of Group Village Head Kalupsa in Nsanje, 24-year-old Memory Guston is slowly giving up on farming altogether.

“The current weather conditions, coupled with the floods that continuously hit this area, are really an obstacle to farming because we are always afraid of working hard in the fields only to have our crops damaged by floods,” Guston says.

Simenti and Guston are among thousands of farmers in Malawi who are facing challenges induced by climate change.

The Shire River, which was supposed to be a source of water for irrigation, has become a messenger of hopelessness, largely due to poor land management practices upstream.

Malawi has had its own share of effects of climate change with estimates indicating that the country loses about 29 metric tonnes of its fertile top soil per hectare each year due to erosion.

This loss costs the country about eight percent of its annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Good farming practices could make all the difference.

At Nkasa Farm in Bvumbwe, Thyolo, for example, these practices are in full force.

Twenty-eight-year-old Dina and her 35-year-old husband Robert Dogo are conserving land by using homemade compost manure instead of fertilisers at their vegetable farm.

“We fight pests by cultivating different kinds of crops which also attract different types of insects. As for the compost, it is helping us to restore fertility in the land apart from preventing soil erosion,” Dina said in an interview recently.

Apart from using the compost manure in their farm, the couple is also selling and encouraging others to start using the same kind of manure to realise maximum yields and conserve the environment.

“The challenge is that most Malawians do not appreciate the importance of using compost manure and are still opting for inorganic fertilisers; but time has come for us to start adopting the use of such kind of manure to not only increase yields but also conserve land,” Dina says.

Recently, Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe warned that land degradation as a result of poor and unsustainable practices remains a serious threat to agricultural productivity in Malawi whose economy is largely agro-based.

Lowe called on communities to adopt modern farming practices to curb land degradation upstream in the Shire basin.

Currently, Malawi is observing Catchment Management Campaign under the Malawi Watershed Services Improvement Project which will see the scaling up of efforts to conserve land and water resources in the country.

Under the campaign, local farmer clubs are adopting modern methods of conserving land and water resources such as stone bunds, check dams and swales to realise better yields apart from controlling floods.

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