Chimbiranjala Village is a metaphor of the rural poorâ€™s exposure to effects of climate change. Named after a Tumbuka term for “escape from hunger”, founders of the area in T/A Kaluluma, Kasungu, migrated over 500 kilometres from the barren hills South West of Nkhata Bay in search of fertile land and food security.
But nearly a century on, residents feel the great trek was a jump from a flying pan into the fire.
“When our ancestors settled here, this village was a fertile, inhabited bush with numerous wild animals. But it seems we are back to the bare and dry hills of Nkhata Bay,” narrates Group Village Head Chimbiranjala.
For his 12 villages, things are no longer the same. Last month, the sun was searing. The traditional leader kept fanning whirls of dust. The soil looked dry and its wildlife gone with the trees. This is strange, he said, and a visitor knows the plain is nearly barren when locals tell their stories of falling harvestsâ€”a thing that worries them more than the fact that June is no longer chilly.
“About 20 years ago, every household had an overflowing nkhokwe [granary]. Now, the rains are unpredictable. Apart from being erratic, they start late and stop early. Now, not many farmers harvest that much in a rainy season,” says Chimbiranjala.
As the world is getting warmer, women such as Frances Kanyinji and Nelisi Tomoka say it pains them to see children absent from school because of food scarcity.
The two do not really understand what climate change is all about. However, UN-certified environmental research shows it is a result of human activity and it affects these rural poor worse than anybody else.
Last month, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Management Catherine Gotani-Hara asked chiefs to champion reforestation, efforts to prevent further deterioration of the environment are as slow as the wheels of adaptation. Like Chimbiranjala, most leaders find cutting down trees easier than replanting.
“There are no bye-laws guiding forestry management at local levels. People cut down trees without fear, but we cannot hand them over to police as we do with thieves and rapists. Neither can we try them as we do with local disputes,” says the village head.
As the breached land cries for reforestation and grapples with the â€˜silent crimesâ€™ against nature, the people look to manure and distant riverbanks for survival.
Typical of maize and vegetable growers in the dambos, Benford Mphande relies on manure from a mix of animal waste and residues of legume cropsâ€”beans, soya and pigeon peasâ€”to improve his harvests.
“With manure, the soil keeps moisture longer and the crop looks greener. However, the major setback is that we are still using watering cans and hoes which consume a lot of energy and time,” Mphande explains.
The farmers clearly need better technologies to utilise the wetlands and to beat recurrent food shortage, says Centre for Environmental Policy Advocacy (Cepa) programme manager Dorothy Tembo.
In this regard, Coop-Maleza, an international organisation, has built dams in Kamthonga and Mthirakuwiri dambos where, true to Mphandeâ€™s lamentation, few farmers use treadle pumps.
According to Coop-Maleza field officer William Swilla, the group is planning to launch a special programme to reinforce conservation agriculture, village saving and lending (VSL) as well as disaster risk management in communities.
“The agricultural part involves ntayakhasu, the use of maize stalks from the previous harvest as manure for the next, while the VSL will help community members to put together their savings into one fund for business loans and use the income to shield themselves from food shortage and other effects of climate change. That way, we hope to live up to the programmes name: Enhancing Community Resilience,” explains Swilla.
As the world is getting warmer, green agriculture is no less important than the village banking model which provides insurance to vulnerable majorities far away from banks.
Sights of farmers burning stalks after a harvest are common in Malawi although it is taught in primary school that it worsens soil infertility. Found in the act, Badwell Nyirongo of Nyirongo Village in the district argued it is not only the easiest way of clearing the fields after harvest but also getting rid of stalk borers. The stem pest multiply at an alarming rate due to global warming, studies show.
This is a great disservice to farmers at a time Malawi Vulnerability Assessment shows at least 1.6 million households need urgent food relief. Minister of Agriculture Professor Peter Mwanza affirmed during the launch of FAO-certified Climate Smart Agriculture partnership that food security could be eroded because of climate change “resulting in poverty and hunger in future”.