She is in her 80s, but still farms for her survival. Alife Gwaza, who has six children and nine grandchildren, is not your usual primary school dropout.
She is a well-known farmer in Ngomani Village, Traditional Authority (TA) Thomas in Thyolo.
When she married some 40 years ago, her family was already a serious farmer.
Today, she lives a happy life on a three-hectare plot where she has a tea plantation on a third of the land. The remainder comprises maize.
For many years, Alife’s yield had been falling as she could not afford improved farm inputs, especially fertiliser.
Some tea estates may have offered her fertiliser on credit, but she usually got two bags-Urea and NPK and-for her maize and tea fields.
“I could only afford two,” she says. “This was far below the recommended amounts. No wonder, I had a poor yield every year.”
The hardworking farmer remained resolute and focused, refusing to become a beggar because of poverty.
She explains: “I feel so sorry for some people of my age who have abandoned their fields and are busy begging on the streets.
“We need to change that altitude and teach our children and grandchildren that hard work pays. This is the only way we can develop this nation.”
The country is an agro-based economy, with nearly eight in ten people being farmers.
However, the country’s farming system leaves a lot to be desired as it is far away from reach.
However, most farmers are grappling with low yields due to exorbitant farm inputs, barren soils, constricting land size, effects of climate change and use of outdated implements, including hoes.
Government is trying to improve the harvest and food security through a K60 million Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) for selected needy farmers.
This year, Alife expects a bumper yield this year.
She hopes to harvest over 100 bags of maize and 2.6 tonnes of tea—partly courtesy of her urine which she harvested for almost two weeks.
The woman’s household is one of those trained in manure-making by Cooperative Enterprise Pathways for Economic and Environmental Sustainability in Malawi Project (Cepeesm).
The organisation works with cooperatives.
Alife may have sent her child to attend the training last year, but the whole household will soon reap the desired fruits.
A member of Mtendere Tea Growers Cooperative, she says: “When I heard about the training and remembered the challenges, I did not hesitate. I sent my son since I could not walk. Through the training, God has answered my prayer,” she narrates.
The trainers taught cooperative members to make organic fertilizer by mixing 10 kilogrammes (kg) of ash with 20kg dung, 20kg of maize bran, five litres of water, five kgs of organic fertilisers and five litres of urine.
Alife only had K2 600 to buy 5kgs of NPK, but she opted to use her urine to make Urea fertilizer.
“During the training, my friends were told that they can add urine to the mixture to make Urea if they could not afford chemical fertilizer.
“I told myself: ‘I am the Urea for my farm.’ So I harvested my urine every morning until I had collected enough to make eight bags of Urea and NPK which I applied in my field.”
The fertiliser, which is gaining popularity, is known as Mbeya.
It could be an answer for many Malawian farmers if utilised.
According to the Department of Agriculture, organic fertiliser releases nutrients slower and more consistently than chemical.
Dr Kesbel Kaonga, a researcher at Chitedze Agriculture Research Station, says organic fertiliser improves soil fertility, texture and moisture retention.
He further says it prevents soil erosion.
“In Malawi, application of organic manure is done at a small scale, but there are more benefits if scaled up. One of the advantages is that organic fertilizer improves soil structure,” he explains.
Cepeesm project manager John Mulangeni says the manure-making training aims to cut farmers’ expenses and improve harvest.
The project has four components, including environmental sustainability and waste management.
“We believe providing the farmers with skills will bring change into their lives. As Cepeesm, we noted that many members of cooperatives were struggling to manage their agriculture systems particularly because they could not afford the fertiliser.”
Malawi Federation of Cooperatives (Mafeco) national coordinator Charles Kayesa commended the Cepeesm for the trainings that have uplifted cooperatives.
“Malawians can now bid farewell to chemical fertiliser and the country can save huge sums of money that are being channelled into the subsidy programme,” he says.
Most importantly, Alinafe and other constrained farmers are expecting to yield surplus this year despite being unable to buy fertilisers. n