Small-scale farmers in Malawi continue to feel the effects of two years of bad harvests after the El Nino weather pattern brought drought and flooding. Many rely on food handouts from aid agencies, but some farmers have fared better thanks to cultivation methods they learned from a U.N.-funded hunger resilience initiative.
Denis Manda proudly walks us through his groundnut fields in the Mchinji district of the capital, stopping to remove a few weeds along the way.
He says in the past he planted 20 kilograms of ground nuts seeds on one acre. But now is able to plant 40 kilograms on one acre because by planting in two rows. He says this means the harvest is as if he had grown a two-acre garden, increasing profits.
Double-row planting is just one of the methods he learned four years ago when he joined an initiative run by the Rural Livelihood and Economic Enhancement Program, called RLEEP.
The project encourages farmers to branch out into a wider variety of legume crops, like soya beans and groundnuts, as well as drought-resistant plants like cassava and sweet potato.
RLEEP National Director Dickson Ngwende says there has been particular success teaching farmers to produce their own certified seeds.
“The seeds that we do within the community have the germination rate in excess of 90 percent,” Ngwende explains. “And the seed of groundnuts and soya that is normally distributed by the commercial organizations have as low as 40 percent of germination rate.”
He says locally produced seeds do not endure multiple rounds of processing that can damage them. The project also urges farmers to apply beneficial bacteria to the seeds and fertilizers to the legumes to help the soil.
About 40,000 farmers in 11 districts across Malawi have gotten the training, but the eight-year project is nearing completion at the end of 2017.
Visiting Malawi this month, International Fund for Agricultural Development President Kanayo Nwanze sought to allay fears progress will be reversed.
“The whole purpose of the program is to get the farmers off the ground. Now the farmers have to take ownership of their business, access to certified seeds. So that is an opportunity for somebody to make a business from producing certified seeds,” Nwanze said.
The goal is resilience. As the expression goes, give someone a fish and he will eat for one day. Teach him to fish and he will feed a generation.