Living with hope after floods


Stop at a roadside warehouse storing food items a kilometer away from Phalombe district headquarters and listen to Julita Bonongwe.

Bonongwe is a determined, rural woman ready to unleash her creative energies and rebuild her life after being struck by the recent floods.

Talking to her, she reveals the desire to stand on her two feet and ward off future menacing floods, common in the Lower Shire districts.


She is one of smallholder farmers affected by the recent floods that affected 15 districts with Nsanje, Chikwawa and Phalombe hit the hardest, where vast swathes of crop fields and livestock were washed away and houses submerged.

President Peter Mutharika declared the 15 districts a disaster zone on January 13, 2015 and called for international emergence assistance to help ease the suffering.

“Just like most people, I have been greatly affected by the floods and so far I haven’t received any assistance,” laments Bonongwe.


She, however, says life must go on, regardless of how huge the gravity of the floods may have been.

And Bonongwe has a quick solution to perennial floods in the area, largely instigated by adverse climatic changes and poor environmental and land use practices.

“Those of us with land upland, let’s move there and rebuild our livelihoods. It’s good to avoid these floods and avert further suffering,” advises Bonongwe, a mother of four, from Mariko Village, Traditional Kaduya in Phalombe.

“Construct canals and plant vertiver grass to control these floods,” advises Bonongwe, 49.

True to that wisdom, recently, cabinet approved a disaster risk reduction policy which calls for the re-allocation of people from floods prone areas to upland zones.

Besides, Bonongwe believes that adherence to good agriculture practices and catchment-based environmental management practices are pivotal in preventing bursting of similar gushing waters.

“When a catastrophe like this has hit you, what is required is to be strong and press the next button on how you can survive,” explains Bonongwe, who grows maize, rice, pigeon peas and sweet potatoes.

She is one of more than 1.1 million people who were affected by the disaster, with more than 63,000 hectares submerged by floodwaters.

Nearly a quarter of a million people were forced to seek temporary shelter in schools, churches and temporary sites. The devastation caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to properties and livelihoods.

The floods left most agriculture fields in the affected districts in total disarray, igniting fears of food insecurity in the southern part of Malawi.

In one of his statements, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza estimated that government needed U$$16 million for disaster recovery in the agriculture sector alone to provide inputs and livestock to the affected small holder farmers.

Several organisations, including United Nations agencies, have responded to the president’s call for support in providing various relief items such as food, medicines and social support before a comprehensive multimillion recovery programme is mounted.

According to a government flood response plan, Malawi needs a total US$81 million (over K34 billion) to respond to the floods in terms of providing short term measures and rebuilding the livelihoods of people destroyed by the floods.

When floods swept her maize garden, Bonongwe lost a potential maize harvest of over 20 bags that she normally gets on her strip of land, on a good year.

But after her garden was logged with water, the single mother embarked on rice and sweet potato farming whose proceeds after sale she needed to buy maize and feed her family.

“I now use profits from our cooperative which we shared among ourselves last year. This is helping me buy food and take care of my family as I await harvest of rice and sweet potatoes around August,” she says.

She is one of 15 female members trading as Nalingula Producers and Marketing cooperative operating in Naminjiwa Extension Planning Area, in Phalombe.

The cooperative is a beneficiary of the Purchase from Africans for Africa (PAA) project, being implemented by the government of Malawi with technical and financial support from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP).

The PAA Africa is a thriving example of South-South cooperation – an approach to development built on the sharing of knowledge, experiences and technology among countries in the global South.

It is a ground-breaking partnership with important lessons on how governments can procure food for public institutions, such as schools, directly from small-scale farmers which need to be up-scaled, shared and incubated.

Now in its third year, the PAA Africa is a regional project implemented by governments of Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Senegal with technical leadership and expertise from FAO and WFP.

Financial support for the work comes from the Brazilian government and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Modelled on Brazil’s achievements in fighting hunger and poverty, PAA Africa helps promote local agricultural production while also improving livelihoods and nutrition, especially among school children.

Part of the farmers’ improved output is used to supply high quality food for use in school feeding programmes in targeted areas such as Mangochi and Phalombe as is the case in Malawi.

Through this project, FAO’s role is to help farmers produce food by assisting them with inputs and training in modern agricultural practices and post-harvest handling practices in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.

On the other hand, WFP supports schools buy produce from local farmers through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology represented by the District Council through the Education Office.

FAO is targeting communities where WFP already has strong presence helping schools buy food items from cooperatives.

This is done through WEEFFET, a local NGO operating in the two districts with unyielding history of remarkable programme results delivery.

Despite the devastating floods, Bonongwe sees flickers of hope for a bright future.

“My future looks bright because I am not alone. If I were not belonging to a cooperative, I would have been in untold problems, unable to survive, and dependant on food aid,” says Bonongwe.

Whether Bonongwe will manage to bounce back to her normal productive capacity is a subject for another day but so far, the cooperative lying a kilometer away from Phalombe district headquarters has come to her rescue.

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