Hardy crops and more reliable agriculture
Between 2000 and 2002 Malawi was hit by floods, crop failure, depleted grain reserves, a higher corn price and a food shortage that affected large sections of the population.
One of the ways of equipping the people to deal with similar situations in the future is to invest in alternative crops, such as sweet potatoes, cassava and black-eyed peas. An agreement was signed with the International Potato Centre, which is working to introduce sweet potatoes, rich in vitamin A, throughout the country as part of the Lake Basin programme.
Compared with more traditional crops like corn, sweet potatoes contain more nutrients, require fewer resources and are more resistant to the droughts that often affect Malawi. Sweet potatoes can also be cultivated throughout the year, producing more harvests.
Projects on a larger scale are needed to create sustainable change in Malawi in the long term. One such project is the Lake Basin programme, which has been carried out throughout the country since 2006. Working with local agricultural organisations, the project takes joint responsibility for supporting people who make a living through fish farming and smallholdings. This programme has helped the rural community make important progress, focusing on sustainable farming, food supply and local business development.
The local partner organisations in the Lake Basin programme are the Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM), the Malawi Union of Savings, the Credit Cooperatives (MUSCCO) and the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM).
Farmers set up their own banks
Securing a loan from a bank is normally difficult for farmers in rural Malawi. But with support from organisations such as We Effect and Lantmännen, farmers can now set up their own savings and credit groups. This enables them to mobilise local capital, which in turn can be used to get effective business operations up and running. Aid for these savings and credit groups started in 2007 and work was in full swing by 2008. Since then the groups have changed the lives of thousands of people.
“Before I wasn’t able to send my children to school. But five years ago I borrowed a small amount of money to start fish farming. My investment has grown: my children now go to school and I’ve been able to buy a car.” – Mary Muhamad, farmer in the Mangochi district.
Training leads to higher profits
Some of the aid to local farmers organisations has been used to train smallholders in how to move over to sustainable methods. The farmers are also taught about running a small business, helping them to increase their profits.
For example, 15,000 study circle books were published in 2010 that were sent around Malawi. Six information centres were set up at the same time, where farmers can go to find out how to develop their farming.
School meals increase attendance
An innovative project that started in 2012 has resulted in 15,000 children in Malawi receiving a meal every day, produced by the farmers in the area. The farmers are trained in farming and business development, while they are also paid for their crops. These crops are turned into school lunches for ten schools around the country. This food is a vital support for pupils, giving them the nourishment they need to do their school work. Attendance also improves when children are given meals at school.
The school meals programme is run in conjunction with the Malawian Government, the UN’s World Food Programme and external aid from companies such as Lantmännen.
Gender equality for better agriculture
In southern Africa, the majority of people working in agricultural production are women. However, traditional laws often prevent them from owing any land. In 2014 a regional conference was held on the rights for women to own their own land. Traditional leaders called ‘chiefs’ from Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi took part. Government representatives and representatives from civil society were also there. This conference resulted in The Lusaka Declaration on Women’s Right to Land, where all the of the chiefs who were present pledged to work for the right of women to own land.
Sustainable agriculture becoming increasingly important
The impact of climate change can clearly be seen in Malawi. In 2015 the corn harvest fell by 30% as a result of extreme weather. Methods such as agroforestry are playing an even more important role in making agricultural more sustainable and resistant.
Agroforestry adopts a lifecycle approach to smallholdings by planting trees alongside other crops. The trees add nutrients to the land, prevent erosion and provide the crops with shade and protection from drought. The families can often become self-sufficient and their food supply becomes less vulnerable to climate change as the land recovers more quickly.
Toughest job in the world
In 2015 We Effect ran a competition to find a Swedish woman to do “The toughest job in the world”: working as a female farmer in the Malawi countryside. At the beginning of 2016 Karin Kling, a paediatric nurse, spent three week as a farmer alongside Biata Chisis on her farm in Salima. This is where farmers are being taught about sustainable farming, and Biata is herself an active member of both a savings and credit group and a study circle. You can read more about Elin’s trip here.
The work in Malawi is constantly developing. Keep a look out for more updates on the Lantmännen website or at We Effect.