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Marrying resilience to indigenous crops

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By Eric Msikiti:

Eighty percent of rural Malawians risk losing their main source of agriculture related income and food sovereignty due to extreme weather patterns that have, in recent times, been having adverse impacts on production.

Malawi, being an agro-based economy, is extremely vulnerable to unforeseen events affecting the agriculture sector.

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It is, therefore, not surprising to see that the impacts of climate change are having their toll on the country’s economic growth, with reports suggesting that Malawi has been losing billions of kwacha in annual maize losses due to droughts and floods.

The maximum annual losses could be as high as $190 million, reports say.

A World Bank study, for example, shows that the 2004/05 drought reduced the staple food harvest to 37 percent of the country’s total food requirements.

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But such devastation and losses could be prevented through the adaptation of climate change resilient agricultural practices and traditional knowledge, officials at non-profit organisation, Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, say.

The organisat ion, jointly with Community of Saint’Egidio (Dream) is implementing a Growth and Resilience in Agriculture for Sustainable Societies (Grass) project which encourages and empowers communities to be food sovereign through cultivation of indigenous crops such as local cereals, legumes and medicinal plants.

Apart from their nutritious content, these crops are also touted for their ability to conserve soils, hence prevent degradation.

“Each one of us has the responsibility to adopt sustainable practices of farming, animal husbandry, processing and consumption that take into serious consideration the respect of the environment one of which is the cultivation of traditional crops,” Slow Food Foundation national coordinator for Malawi, Manvester Khoza, says.

According to Khoza, droughts and floods precipitated by changes in climate have also affected efforts to reduce malnutrition in Malawians living with HIV.

“This is why, in the project, we have integrated indigenous agricultural knowledge and health experience to improve the nutritional levels of our HIV positive clients who are on therapies,” Davide Brambilla, Dream lab supervisor and project team leader, says.

Brambilla also states that failure to adopt measures that could address the current effects of climate change and diversify food systems could negatively affect Malawi’s response to malnutrition, especially among people living with HIV.

“We, therefore, need to strengthen farmers’ ability to implement risk management practices, diversify crops so that we reduce the food insecurity threat of the 92 percent of the country’s population living in rural areas,” he says.

Last month, the two organisations held a local Terra Madre Day (an organic food show) in the area of Senior Chief Kapeni in Blantyre where 300 beneficiaries exhibited their gardens’ produce.

Exhibitors came from six districts of Blantyre, Mangochi, Machinga, Balaka, Dedza and Dowa where the project is implemented.

Kapeni emphasised the importance of indigenous crops to the conservation of the environment and to the nutritious wellbeing of individuals.

“Some of the diseases and natural occurrences we are seeing today were not there in the old days. This is because, during those days, we used to eat natural foods. Even soil erosion was rare those days. We need to reflect again on the old ways which are being ignored now,” Kapeni said.

Slow Food promotes the production of local, organic foods without the use of synthetic chemicals.

It discourages fast-junky food systems where every production is dependent on use of chemicals which have negative effects on people’s lives and the environment.

Slow Food also states that the food production and consumption systems most common today are harmful to the earth, to its ecosystems and to the people that inhabit it.

That is why the organisation has trained over 500 individuals on how they can establish sustainable gardens apart from establishing 30 community gardens where diverse indigenous crops are currently being grown.

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