Kasungu is among Malawi’s most popular tobacco growing districts.
As far as agriculture is concerned, when Kasungu is mentioned, tobacco becomes the first crop that comes to many a mind.
But things are changing.
Agriculture extension workers in the district are encouraging farmers to go for more than the leaf, which is facing an unprecedented crisis.
George Mkwangwanya, an agriculture extension worker in Chulu Extension Planning Area (EPA), Traditional Authority (T/A) Mphomwa, is pleased to see farmers changing their agriculture habits.
They are making a killing out of crops such as cassava, vitamin A maize, high-iron beans and orange-fleshed potatoes.
“In the past, many farmers stuck to tobacco but now they are pursuing alternatives. Where they used to grow tobacco, they are now growing other crop thanks to interventions by organisations such as Nascent Solutions,” Mkwangwanya said recently.
Mkwangwanya and other extension workers are also advising farmers to opt for early maturing crops to beat the drastic effects of climate change, which include erratic rainfall patterns.
“Our interactions with the farmers have revealed that they are also making money when they sell their harvest. The high nutrients content also means families have good food in homes,” the extension worker says.
Through its school feeding programme, Nascent Solutions—a humanitarian and development oriented organisation fighting poverty in Africa— introduced high-value crops that are stimulating farmers’ interest.
The organisation, with financial support from the United States (US) Department of Agriculture, is working with stakeholders such as HarvestPlus to provide farmers with modern crop varieties.
The initiative is part of efforts to see to it that families continue provide to nutritious food to their school-going children once the school feeding programme winds up in the next five years.
Among others, Nascent Solutions is working with lead farmers in Kasungu, Lilongwe, Ntcheu, Chiradzulu, Thyolo and Mulanje, where it is implementing the programme.
Through community gardens that have been established, the lead farmers are teaching community members how to grow highly nutritious crops.
“Every household will eventually have its own garden. The response from the community is overwhelming,” says Patrick Ngalonde, a lead farmer from Sitonya Village, T/A Mphomwa, in the Central Region district.
He further hopes more households will eventually deal with nutrition-related challenges, especially among children who have a penchant for the sweet taste of the vitamin A maize and the orange-fleshed potatoes.
Nascent Solutions Chief of Party to Malawi, Robert Chizimba, says introducing the high-value crops will ensure learners stay in school.
Chizimba says if adopted at household level, the community gardens will bring nutritious food closer to rural homes and enhance school attendance as children will have enough food before they turn up for classes.
Currently, Nascent Solutions is providing nutritious meals in form of food rations to 65,000 learners in primary schools and early childhood development centres in the six districts.
Bio-fortified vegetable oil and Corn Soy Blend, which are given to leaners, are imported from the US.
“But we are looking forward to the day we will not have to bring in these nutritious commodities all the way from the US, because, once people adopt these crops, the nutritious food stuffs will be right in their homes,” Chizimba says.
He hopes parents will be able to provide nutritious food to their school-going children as many Malawians start adopting the modern crop varieties.
Harvest Plus Programme, which fights hidden hunger by promoting the production and consumption of bio-fortified crops, says crops such as high-iron beans and vitamin A maize are crucial in ending malnutrition among school-going children.
Through initiatives, the programme has provided vitamin A maize, high-iron beans and orange-fleshed sweet potatoes to communities and schools across the country.
“We believe that if these crops is adopted and produced in communities beyond the schools, they may become the long-lasting solution to hidden hunger, in this case, malnutrition.
“We are making sure that seed for these bio-fortified crops are included in the normal value chain as any other seed,” HarvestPlus Country Manager Dellings Phiri says.
Eric Msikiti is a Senior Reporter/News Producer at Times Group. Though relatively young, Eric boasts years of experience in Malawi’s media industry.