By Memory Kutengule:
Aina Mdala, 49, is one of small-scale farmers contributing to the agriculture sector in Malawi.
She lives in a drought-prone Chidothe Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mlumbe in Zomba.
For years, Mdala’s story has been of regret for the yield of maize crop she has been cultivating using traditional farming practices has always been dismal.
With erratic rainfall, she harvested less than five 50-kilogramme bags of maize per half-hectare, too little to sustain her family of six to the next growing season.
“Due to the harsh climate conditions we normally experience in the area, crop production without irrigation was a huge challenge.
“To survive, I resorted to doing piecework such as domestic chores in other people’s homes. I needed to generate more income to buy extra bags of maize to supplement my stocks,” Mdala explains.
This, she says, has been the trend since she started farming 15 years ago.
The story of Mdala reflects on how hundreds of farming families are struggling in light of climate change to realise bountiful yields for subsistence and commercial gains.
Consequently, most families have been experiencing food shortage, putting children at the risk of malnutrition.
In response, World Vision Malawi (WVM), in 2015, with support from Malawi Government, United States Agency for International Development and World Food Programme rolled out Food Assistance for Asset (FFA) Project in Zomba.
The four-year FFA project follows community-based watershed management which focuses on agricultural land rehabilitation, natural resource conservation and management; and household and group-based assets and infrastructural development.
Zomba District WVM FFA Project Coordinator Wallace Givah says the project is aimed at enhancing livelihood through improved agricultural productivity.
He says the interventions were implemented at household, group and community level reaching out to 29, 056 farmers in T/As Ngwelero, Mwambo, Mlumbe, Kuntumanje and Chikowi.
“This was to help poor rural families who are exposed to risks of climate change by increasing their food and income security,” Givah says.
Under agricultural land rehabilitation, the organisation imparted skills to farming households on climate smart agriculture that focuses on soil conservation.
Climate smart agriculture is based on three principles of minimal soil disturbance, mulching (permanent soil cover) and crop rotation.
In 2017, Mdala was privileged to be among the group of 181 farmers practising recommended farming technologies at Mkanda 1 Village T/A Mlumbe.
“We were advised to plant vetiver grass, dig water basins within farmland to retain soil moisture and utilise Mbedza River, which lies just about 20 metres away, for irrigation purposes,” Mdala says.
Additionally, Mdala says the organisation encouraged farmers to use organic mulch which helps retain moisture and, later, after decomposition, provide nutrients to the soil.
“WVM taught us how to make compost manure using rotten plants and animal wastes to produce organic fertiliser. The organic fertiliser is a cheaper alternative which has led to increased crop productivity,” she says.
Mdala explains that, in 20l7, she harvested one tone of maize from half a hectare.
“The yield has been increasing every season in that, this year, I realised 20 bags of maize in addition to harvesting beans and pigeon peas.
“I intend to sale six bags at Kl0,000 each and use the money to support children with their education needs,” Mdala says.
Elsewhere, equally dedicated farmers await a similar success story.
Despite the farmers’ efforts, harvests have been negligible.
To this effect, Self Help Africa (SHA), an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) with focus on agriculture, plans to reach 402,000 farmers in 10 districts in WVM’s fashion.
SHA, with a consortium of five local and international NGOs, is implementing a five-year multi-million kwacha Better Extension Transforming Economic Returns Project in Mzimba, Kasungu, Salima, Nkhotakota, Mulanje, Karonga, Chitipa, Nkhata Bay, Thyolo and Chiradzulu.
Under the initiative, SHA is a lead agency with Plan International, Evangelical Association of Malawi, Adventist Relief Agency (Adra) and ActionAid partnering to equip farmers with climate smart agriculture techniques.
So far, 69,000 farmers have already been reached in the target areas and there is hope that their household food security will improve.
SHA Country Director Ulemu Chiluzi says farmers are being encouraged to use modern farming techniques through Farmer Field School (FFS) to increase climate resilience, food, nutrition and income security.
“FFS comprises 30 farmers who decide the type of enterprises to venture into and SHA, in collaboration with its partners such as Adra, only provide them with technologies and expertise on good agro-practices.
“We believe that when farmers embrace modern farming techniques in light of climate change, they will be able to diversify and increase crop productivity and boost household income,” Chiluzi explains.
Principal Land Resources Conservation Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Enock Whayo commends the organisations for complementing government’s efforts to empower farmers to increase crop productivity.
Whayo says conservation agriculture has huge benefits to farmers in maximising crop production which eventually leads to food security at household and national level.
“For instance, using traditional methods, harvesting cereals per hectare is less than two tonnes while using conservation agriculture, one is able to realise four tonnes per hectare,” Whayo says.
Whayo, therefore, decries low adoption of the system saying, currently, only 15,000 farmers have adopted conservation agriculture out of more than 500,000 farmers who practices it.
“Most of the farmers are just practising conservation agriculture but they have not fully adopted it. As such, there is need for farmers to change mindset on this type of farming,” he says.