Malawi: Women Champion Climate Smart Agriculture

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George Mhango
November 29, 2014

Alice Kachere—a mother of three—from the outskirts of Lilongwe, Malawi’s administrative capital has lived part of her life complaining about high poverty levels .

Kachere could not live a decent life, something that tormented her in terms of how to raise children and other family members. Food was also a challenge in her family.

She lives in Nyanja, Lilongwe close to Mchinji, a district that borders Malawi and Zambia on the Western part of the country.

“I lacked food, clothes, school fees for my children and as if that was not enough, I lived in a house made of mud. It was terrible during the rainy season as grass-thatched houses often times leak,” said Kachere.

Unlike her colleagues, who belonged to farming associations, she never took farming as a tool that could transform her livelihood. Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in the economies of most nations.

“Poor rainfall in my area has contributed to my failure to regard farming as business to tackle poverty,” she said, adding that there land is not fertile to warrant good agricultural production.

Little did Kachere know that having a small portion of unfertile land was no excuse for one not to engage in farming. There’s a new method of farming promoted by the TerrAfrica Sustainable Land and Water Management partnership. It is called Conservation Agriculture and has proven to be a best practice farming for the future.

Women in Malawi return from collecting sand and water. Women involvement in water management in agriculture is valuable because of their experiences and responsibilities in crop production and collection of water for domestic uses.
Women in Malawi return from collecting sand and water. Women involvement in water management in agriculture is valuable because of their experiences and responsibilities in crop production and collection of water for domestic uses.

Conservation Agriculture popularly known by its acronym CA is “a concept for resource-saving agricultural crop production that strives to achieve acceptable profits together with high and sustained production levels while concurrently conserving the environment” (FAO 2007).

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has determined that CA has three key principles that producers (farmers) can proceed through in the process of CA. These three principles outline what conservationists and producers believe can be done to conserve what we use for a longer period of time.

The first key principle in CA is practicing minimum mechanical soil disturbance/ no-till farming which is essential to maintaining minerals within the soil, stopping erosion, and preventing water loss from occurring within the soil. No-till farming has caught on as a process that can save soils organic levels for a longer period and still allow the soil to be productive for longer periods.

The second key principle in CA is much like the first in dealing with protecting the soil. The principle of managing the top soil to create a permanent organic soil cover can allow for growth of organisms within the soil structure. This growth will break down the mulch that is left on the soil surface. The breaking down of this mulch will produce a high organic matter level which will act as a fertilizer for the soil surface.

The third principle is the practice of crop rotation with more than two species. Crop rotation can be used best as a disease control against other preferred crops.

It remains the view of various agriculture organisations that if more produce is harvested, farmers would export surplus products since most African economies are agro-based.

Just one meeting on sustainable land and water management, including conservation agriculture organised by the National Smallholder Farmers Association (Nasfam)—which she unwillingly attended – Kachere’s life was changed for the better.

First, Kachere had to accept that she can use her one hectare piece of land to cultivate crops twice a year. Secondly, that although the land was not productive, she has to do conservation agriculture so as to make it fertile.

And with one hectare of land, today, Kachere is now chair of Nyanja Association since 2009 and a role model to most of the women farmers in Malawi. She has reaped the rewards through CA.

Due to her farming prowess, she attends various trainings in making farming as business, climate smart agriculture, financing and market exploration for the betterment of members of her association.

Moreover, Kachere has built herself a better house and is taking care of her elderly mother and can now afford her children’s school fees.

“With the nature of my land, I had to realize that I have to promote conservation agriculture, we are doing soil cover and planting trees which adds more nutrients to the soil such as Nsangu,” said Kachere.

She grows maize, beans, and pigeon peas. “Considering the gravity of climate change, which has affected most farmers, I am also more into climate smart agriculture,” she said, adding that she sells her surplus maize and beans to buy fertilizer & lime and keep her family going.

Kachere is one of the many farmers today in Malawi, who are championing conservation agriculture.

A woman in Kanzilu village in Mutomo, Eastern Kenya cuts cassava stem
A woman in Kanzilu village in Mutomo, Eastern Kenya cuts cassava stem

Ines Malemia, a mother of three and member of the Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) is also into conservation farming.

“I have 30 hectares of land in Mdeka, Blantyre where I grow pigeon peas. The land is friendly to such a crop unlike maize and beans. I intend to start growing cotton next season in Mangochi so that my business grows,” said Malemia.

For her, this is a holistic approach to agricultural production, based on enhancing natural soil biological regeneration processes involving improved soil organic matter management for the efficient use of precipitation, soil moisture and plant nutrients.

With Malawi government, allocating more financial resources towards the Agriculture Ministry during the current budget, both Malemia and Kachere hope some funds will be used to champion conservation and smart agriculture and climate smart agriculture.

At a recent CAADP Africa Forum held in Johannesburg in South Africa, various speakers backed CA as key to African Agriculture.

Research done by NEPAD shows that climate change effects are becoming more frequent and more severe, threatening the reliability and productivity of agriculture, exacerbating already extreme levels of poverty, and reinforcing persistent inequity and chronic under-nutrition.

Researchers however, said the challenge can be avoided through widespread adoption of more resilient, productive, sustainable, equitable and increasingly efficient farming practices.

This is why at the CAADP Africa Forum; NEPAD programmes director Estherine Fotabong reiterated the need for farmers to input on issues of climate smart agriculture and other pertinent issues on the Malabo Declaration.

According to Fotabong, the declaration, which is an implementation strategy and roadmap, will be submitted to African Heads of State and Governments during the upcoming African Union Summit in January 2015.

“We want reaffirmation from leaders on ending hunger and poverty by 2025 and also to enhance resilience and livelihood and productive systems to climate vulnerability and other shocks hence the plea to add value to the declaration before taking to the African leaders,” she said.

In the field of CA there are many benefits that both the producer and conservationist can obtain. CA can change the way humans produce food and energy. CA is shown to have even higher yields and higher outputs than conventional agriculture once CA has been establish over long periods. And our women champions in Malawi can attest that locally CA has ripped them rewards.

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