Life has been unbearable for Immaculate Mtsukunyika from Mndolera in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Dzoole in Dowa District.
For the past 42 years, she has been swimming in dire poverty.
Like most of her peers, Mtsukunyika was relying on rain-fed agriculture and pieceworks to earn a living.
The mother of eight could not afford to feed her family all year round. Even buying a tablet of soap was a demanding task for her.
However, there is now light at the end of the tunnel for Mtsukunyika and her peers as the African Institute of Corporate Citizenship (AICC) is now implementing a programme which allows them to produce a variety of horticulture crops all year round.
Using a macro-investment technology under the Sustainable Food Systems for Rural Resilience and Transformation (Transform) Programme, the farmers are using drip irrigation, popularly known as mdonthera because of its water efficiency and low labour intensity, in their farming activities.
According to the National Agricultural Investment Plan (Naip), horticultural crops, especially vegetables, score highly on the International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri) model for their contribution to poverty reduction and dietary diversity.
The production of horticultural crops, therefore, puts Mtsukunyika at an advantage to make quick cash.
She explains how her life has changed in just a year through the programme.
“For the first time in my life, I am now producing three or four times a year. I have managed to buy two goats and a cow using the proceeds from my garden,” says Mtsukunyika.
She works in a group of 12 farmers who have access to drip kits and are provided with intensive extension services through AICC’s field agronomists.
With her fellow horticulture farmers, Mtsukunyika was for three months hosted under an incubator programme before graduating and training other farmers through her acquired experience.
Medicol Sulumbu, who graduated last year and is now training others, says farmers have fallen for the modern agriculture technology because it is not labour intensive.
“We only use 20 litres of water a day for a 15-metre planting station instead of the previous 30 watering cans,” he says.
Sulumbu says the technology also increases their yields; therefore, their take home every three months has also increased significantly.
Access to markets
Marketing farm produce, including horticultural crops, remains a challenge in the country.
This is confirmed in the Naip which says efficiency and inclusiveness of agricultural markets are affected by gaps in market infrastructure, information and irregularities between farmers and downstream actors.
The blueprint says there is need to improve rural roads and market infrastructure to improve access to markets, reduce post-harvest losses and improve product quality.
Farmers from Mndolera have not been spared from the marketing woes.
However, with AICC’s intervention, the farmers who are benefiting from the irrigation project have been trained in how to analyse and use market information.
Mndolera Extension Planning Area markets vice-chairperson Leonard Mazoni says the farmers have now signed contracts with buyers of their commodities.
“We will now be selling our products to hotels and surrounding secondary schools,” he says.
Mazoni says, previously, the farmers were depending on informal rural markets to sell their products.
The Ifpri 2019 study says agricultural extension services are among the most important factors driving smallholder farmers’ development.
The study adds that receiving quality advice along with knowledge of certain technologies leads to greater adoption, higher productivity and food security.
Though that is the case, Malawi has a low number of extension workers. The Civil Society Agriculture Network indicates that one extension worker services between 1 500 and 3 900 farmers.
However, a visit to the fields under irrigation in Msemwe Village, one cannot miss the availability of an extension worker.
Emmanuel Zimpita, an AICC agronomist for the area, says he works with the farmers every day to impart knowledge on the macro-investment technology.
He says: “Apart from low labour intensity, crop population is also higher with this technology as compared to other basic production of horticulture crops.”
AICC communications officer Godfrey Pumbwa says the success of the technology lies in its simplicity, profitability and affordability.