The Malawi 2063 is anchored on improved agricultural productivity that goes beyond subsistence farming.
According to the blueprint, by 2063, the country should be recognised as: “A vibrant knowledge-based economy with a strong and competitive manufacturing industry that is driven by a productive and commercially vibrant agriculture and mining sector.”
However, gaps in accessing affordable agricultural inputs coupled with quality extension services to a larger percentage of farmers in the country posed challenges to maximise output from a unit area.
Ideally, one Agriculture Extension Development Officer (AEDO) is supposed to serve 750 farmers which is not the case on the ground.
Even in Group Village Kalanje’s area in Mangochi, over 1678 farm households are served by one AEDO.
GVH Kalanje said it is quite impractical to get the best from the AEDO as the ratio of extension worker to farmers is just wide.
Ng'omba inspects vertiver grass that controls runoff in her garden
“You can see how many farmers are here against one government extension worker. There are times each farmer has a pressing issue that needs her attendance but she might be elsewhere assisting other farmers and this has an effect on our farming activities,” said Kalanje.
According to Chiyambi Kamzati, Monitoring, Evaluation and Knowledge Management Officer for Plan Malawi, poor yields, malnutrition and poverty characterised Kalanje Village before interventions by NGOs and the recent Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) rolled out.
“The area needed strong extension services as such our organisation in partnership with World Food Programme (WFP) rolled out the Integrated Resilience Programme (IRP) which has seen several interventions being initiated for the betterment of the farmer. We acknowledge the foundation set by Emmanuel International’s farmer field schools. With WFP, we are engaging farmers to the next level. It’s a holistic approach that looks at their farm as well as household needs,” said Kamzati.
Ng'omba explaining how the interventions have assisted her
Meriya Kamwachale, Government’s nutritionist working in the area, said among other interventions, farmers are also being trained on the preparation and consumption of healthy and nutritive meals.
“We are starting at the household level. Over 80 percent of households have Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities, over 1000 households are using fuel-efficient cookstoves and 916 backyard vegetable gardens have been constructed for improving dietary diversity at a household level. When this is realised the farmers have good health and positive energy to adopt other innovations that are being introduced to maximise output,’’ said Kamwachale.
Locally available nutritive foods and home made juice on display
in Kalanje Village
One of the villagers in Kalanje, Lydia Ng’omba, 38, has for years on end struggled to have enough food for her household of seven. After inspecting her garden which is slightly over one acre, she disclosed that prior to 2017 life was very hopeless in the village. Integrated approaches to improve her household status were none existent. Once she started attending the farmer field schools and adopting innovative agricultural practices such as conservation agriculture, construction of check dams, swales and deep trenches it has helped to control soil erosion in her field, improve fertility and moisture retention.
Down from an average yield of seven bags, Ng’omba told MBC Online that this year she has harvested two barnfuls with 22 bags of maize already shelled.
“I never fell sick during the entire farming season thanks to nutrition lessons our extension officer keep teaching us. In the past, I could get five, seven but not over nine bags of maize. With five children in my household food stockouts were the order of the years. When I started practising these integrated approaches, including the use of organic manure and the affordable inputs we accessed during the last farming season, you can see for yourselves that hunger is history now. I have harvested enough and will sell the excess to buy some household needs,” said Ng’omba.
To safeguard post-harvest losses Ng’omba also said she will use PICS bags which store produce for a long time without the need for chemical preservation.
“Once you fill in the grains and tie tightly, no weevil can destroy the produce. This is cost-effective and also an organic way of storing farm produce,” said Ng’omba.
Ng'omba sorting maize in one of her traditional grainaries
To cushion her household income, Ng’omba is also a member of a beehive association in her village. She said being active in such groups helps her to generate extra income when the grouping sells the honey.
She said: “The association has been planting trees over the years and some trees have grown to the extent of providing a conducive environment for mounting beehives. We have a total of 43 beehives but we are yet to start harvesting from the majority of them.’’
On a good day, her group sells a litre of honey at MK 3,000. When the honey is sold and gets her share, she invests part of it in a village savings and loans group. She said vsls have soft conditions and are a reliable source of capital for her farming activities. She also lauds vsls saying, “at the end of year am expecting a substantial dividend.”
Apiculture is promoted as an income generating activity in IRP
A total of 84 women and 30 men joined the vsls where some have benefitted by buying iron sheets, goats and household items.
WFP's Country Representative, Benoit Thiry, said the organisation is interested to see a substantatial impact on the ground.
“The mandate of WFP is to achieve food security with the people we serve. The programme is seeking to achieve food and income security at the household level but also the nutrition aspect of our beneficiaries is incorporated in the project, that’s why we are trying to integrate several interventions to ensure there’s sustainability on the ground,” said Thiry.
Thiry: 'We are interested in positive impact'
In Kalanje, WFP is working with Plan Malawi as its partner with funding from USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA).
A total of 987 females and 87 males are direct beneficiaries of the IRP with a high replication figure hitting over 14,000 farm households. These farmers will in subsequent years vouch like Ng’omba that sustainable integrated approaches in agriculture can defeat both hunger and poverty.