Oris Chikwati, 33, from Group Village Head (GVH) Mpulula in Balaka was awarded the Conservation Agriculture Model Farmer Southern Africa Award at the Second Africa Congress on Conservation Agriculture in South Africa last year.
Despite the fact that his district faces perennial dry spells, Chikwati harvests at least 80 bags from his small piece of land through adherence to modern agricultural practices.
The youthful farmer was driven into farming at the age 22 as fate could not allow him to remain in school following the death of his grandparents in 2006.
Chikwati was aware that education is key to one’s success, but the responsibility of taking care of his two siblings immediately after his guardians’ demise was a blow on his education.
“I dropped out of school when I was in Form Three since I could not afford to pay fees. At the same time, I was supposed to look after my younger brothers. I felt bad, but I couldn’t do otherwise,” he says.
Chikwati’s hope was on the land, the only capital his grandparents bequeathed him.
Single-handedly and with little agricultural knowledge, he embarked on maize production for food, but the land could not give him satisfactory yield because it had become infertile.
There was little or no land management by his grandparents to maintain and sustain soil fertility until the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development earmarked the area, including his land, for the Green Belt Initiative Programme.
The programme started with training of farmers, including Chikwati, on climate change management, soil conservation, fodder preservation, water harvesting, crop diversification and seed multiplication.
He says the initiative encouraged farmers to establish farming clusters and to adopt modern agricultural farming practices.
In the programme, agriculture extension workers advised the farmers to implement all the modern agricultural technologies in a bid to restore and conserve soil and increase its fertility.
“The technologies also helped to retain rain water which helps to moisturise soils during dry spells. We are not affected like those who have not embraced the technologies. We always have bumper harvests,” Chikwati says.
Being the youngest of the farmers in the initiative and due to his interest and hard-working spirit, extension workers visited him regularly to monitor the progress of his work, especially in land management.
Eventually, Chikwati received all forms of support, including high yielding hybrid crop varieties from the district agriculture development office (Dado) which he planted on his 0.5 acre piece of land.
“I realised bumper yields beyond my expectation. I then extended my farm to one hectare using slashing method following extension workers’ advice,” says the father of three.
GVH Mpulula describes Chikwati as a role model and an icon among the youthful generation in her area.
She says through his hard work and interest in modern farming methods, many people in the area have started emulating his agricultural practices.
The chief further says the skills passed on to the youth have made the area to become self-reliant in terms of food as many farmers now harvest more than before.
“Most farmers are growing crops that withstand dry spells and with new agricultural technologies, they harvest more. This can be attributed to what they see in Chikwati’s farm,” says Mpulula.
It has been 13 years since Chikwati ventured into farming and though he found himself in the field by chance, today he does not regret the decision of taking modern farming seriously.
He says he has no plans of getting employment elsewhere as he sees light at the end of the tunnel.
“My life has greatly transformed. I built a four bedroom decent house; I have livestock, a sofa set, and I continue realising bumper yields every year. I envision myself swimming in money in the next few years to come,” Chikwati says.
Following his hard work and achievements, he was identified and chosen as a lead farmer in the area and chairs the village agriculture committee.
To this effect, he harbours an ambition to open an agro-business enterprise in his area where farmers could access farm inputs and other agricultural services.
Patrick Majawa, a farmer in the same area, and has seen Chikwati rising in his farming business, describes him as the best example of modern farmers in the area and beyond.
He says farming was previously regarded as a career for the elderly as young people opted for white collar jobs.
“The young man started from scratch but now, there he is, recognised internationally. Although most people regard modern agricultural technologies as quite involving and tedious, he has proved it is worthwhile and rewarding,” Majawa says.
He further says modern technologies that have catapulted Chikwati into recognition include knowledge and skills in dealing with problems that come with climate change.
“Farmers are equipped with all the knowledge and skills to avert climate change issues. So, there’s much sense in adopting the technologies for maximum results. For instance, fodder preservation and soil conservation technologies are best instruments for dealing with erratic rains,” Majawa says.
Balaka Dado Dennis Zingeni describes Chikwati as an agriculture youth pioneer who has voluntarily adopted all the new farming technologies that the Ministry of Agriculture has been advocating on the ground.
He, therefore, predicts a bright future for Chikwati in farming due to his interest and adherence to new technologies in the industry.
“Previously, he was harvesting less than a tonne, but now, with new technologies he is able to realise more than 2.5 metric tonnes per hectare which is a big achievement in agriculture,” Zingeni says.
He believes that the international award that Chikwati received was a morale booster and encouragement to him and the community at large.
“Since he received the award, the young man is not looking back but working closely with agricultural extension workers to keep learning new skills. No wonder most of our field visits take us to his field where most of the skills that we advocate for are practised,” Zingeni says.