Well, this is what a four year project known as Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Empowered Resilience (Prosper) funded by UK AID and valued at K75.8 billion is trying to answer in Balaka, Mangochi, Chikwawa and Phalombe.
Chidimpiti Village, Traditional Authority Kalembo in Balaka district is one of the impact areas for the Prosper project.
Farmers in this village have been trained to dig out swales, water absorption trenches, check dams and embankments to control surface run offs and increases moisture retention in their gardens.
Swales and check-dams crucial in field moisture retention
Hawa Dickson, one of the farmers told MBC: “These innovative approaches have tripled yields from my garden now am capable of getting 30 or more bags of maize from the same plot I used to harvest 7 or less.”
Successful harvests plus other income generating activities have also turned around the fortunes of Stella Jolowesi and her family in the same village.
She said through the earnings from cash transfers, dividends from village savings and loans (VSL) and the improved yields, the Jolowesis have made a big jump from a grass thatched abode to an iron sheet roofed house.
The Jolowesis new house previously habited a grass-thached one
“We have learnt a lot and we keep learning new technologies from the project. Our yields keep increasing and accessibility of capital through VSLs has enabled us to expand our agricultural activities and I have managed to build this new house.
“In addition you can even see I have a vegetable garden in the backyard where I grow nutritive vegetables. I also own a woodlot and use eco friendly energy efficient cook-stoves thereby conserving the environment. Previously a bundle of firewood would last us a week but with these efficient cook stoves it can take three or more weeks,” said Jolowesi.
The same efforts are being replicated in Kalino Village in Traditional authority Mponda in Mangochi.
Hot the area can be, these innovations have enhanced water retention and improved output as attested by Zalungo Konola, one of the lead farmers.
He said: “Farmer field schools are an oasis of modern farming technologies. There are mistakes we used to do previously due to lack of knowledge now we are being equipped with the right knowledge and there’s notable change in our outputs.”
Qualified agro dealers are also incorporated in the project. This is to ensure that farmers plant certified seeds.
This concept has created business and employment opportunities.
Labia James, 45, who has been an agro-dealer for many years said: “I netted K4 million as profit in the last growing season after being incorporated in Prosper project."
James: " i netted K4 million as profit through the project."
In a bid to strengthen agricultural extension services, Prosper project has also trained 23 assistant community animal health workers (Acaws) which has led to improved livestock production in the impact areas.
Sarah Kohnstamm, United Nations Coordinator for the Prosper project gives an overview to this end.
“What is interesting in Prosper is that we have different partners coming together to support the community and see what is working and adjusting appropriately any deviations. The United Nations is more focused on the vulnerable in the community.
“We are seeing great changes in the communities as households benefit from VSLs and cash transfers to manage the watersheds. Their health is also improving with nutrition interventions in the project. The communities have also been equipped with climate information so they are well prepared for dry spells and floods,” said Kohnstamm.
Kohnstamm and VSL women group in Mangochi
Another component in the project is ‘Farmer Field School’ - FFS.
Joyce White a member of Chipole FFS and a member of VSL in T/A Mbera Balaka said: “It is possible to prosper under the Prosper project. I have managed to purchase a motorcycle and employed my husband to run it as a ‘kabaza’ business.”
United Nations resident coordinator office implements the project in collaboration with World Food Programme (WFP) , Food and Agriculture Organisation ( FAO) and UNICEF.
It also have a consortium of partners (United Purpose, Concern Worldwide, Goal Malawi, Cumo and Kadale) running various project components in the impact districts.
White enjoying a motorcycle ride with her husband
A total of 484,036 farmers will benefit under the project. About 80 percent of Malawi’s population constitute of smallholder farmers, USAID said on its website.