Some districts in Malawi have been known to be food secure in one year, only to fall into the club of food insecurity the next. But Chikhwawa is not one such district. Its food security pendulum does not oscillate.
Every year, Chikhwawa in the lower Shire is always on the list of districts with cases of food shortages. What could be the problem with the district?
“Climate change is taking a heavy toll mostly in Chikhwawa. Apart from frequent floods, the district, due to its high temperature, experiences frequent dry spells. This destroys its soil structure, which leads to crop failure,” says Duncan Magwira, Chikhwawa district agricultural development officer (Dado).
Interestingly, the challenge facing Chikhwawa affects many other districts in the country which continue to struggle due to climate change.
But with support from the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which is a grant holder, and funds from USAid, the Chikhwawa Diocese is implementing a project called Wellness and Agriculture for Life Advancement (Wala) in six traditional authorities, namely Kasisi, Lundu, Mankhwira, Ngabu, Maseya and Katunga.
According to Elias Gaveta, Wala’s agriculture and natural resource coordinator for Chikhwawa Diocese, the project mostly targets smallholder farmers.
“We train famers on how they can conserve soil fertility through use of manure, crop rotation and also, most importantly, in seed multiplication which, basically, aims at involving farmers in the multiplication and dissemination of improved varieties of sweet potato and cassava,” he says.
Elliness Chipwaila of Traditional Authority Kasisi is one of the maize and cassava farmers who, two years ago, attended the training and orientation of the programme.
“Despite working hard every growing season in the past four years, I have always found myself going hungry during the consumption season,” she says.
However, in the 2012/2013 season, Chipwaila is not one of the 257 653 people who were food insecure in the district.
In her maize garden, instead of applying fertiliser, she filled the ground with residues and planted improved maize varieties in carefully dug holes which had manure in them. She also did this in her cassava farm.
“The residues helps to keep the ground cover warm and fertile, as a result, makes it healthy for the crop to grow easily,” explains Gaveta.
And it worked for Chipwaila.
“After I started using these conservation methods, I harvested 15 bags of maize. I also had a lot of cassava to eat. I am expecting more this year,” she says.
Magwira says his office will work closely with Wala to ensure that the farmers don’t fall back.