For John Malunga, farming is a matter of life or death.
For years, the 45-year-old’s remote setting in Traditional Authority (TA) Chiwalo, Phalombe, was home to wanton cutting down of trees which has left the country with one of the most alarming deforestation rates globally. In the area, farmers have been lamenting dwindling yields as soils become bleached and rains unpredictable.
Now, he is one of hundreds of citizens playing a part to replenish and conserve the trees for the good of his farming community which has been hit hard by environmental degradation.
Actually, the farmer says he will always remember the life-changing lessons from farmer field school (FFS) spearheaded by the Catholic Development Commission in his area.
Malunga, who lives in Nambwale Village, rejoices in what the field schools have brought to his family-an energy-saving stove.
The chairperson of the 14-strong Makongwa FFS Club and his group have learnt to make energy-saving stoves.
They fashion the tree-saving stoves at both household and club levels, enhancing their income for running the group and the homes.
“The energy-saving stoves produced by our club do not only protect the environment, but also to improve our household earnings. We sell the stoves at K1 000 each. Right now, we have so many orders,” says Malunga.
His fellow club member Astern Adam, a widow with six children, praises the stoves for reducing the time spent cooking meals.
Since she made the energy-saving stove, a skill attained from the field school that offers the farmers a safe space to share vital skills and explore solutions to their common problems, it takes her no time to prepare food for her children.
“When I wake up in the morning, I quickly prepare water for my children to bath. At the same time, I cook breakfast for them so that they are not late for classes. All this takes less time and no more than three pieces of firewood,” she says.
Adam uses less energy as compared to other cooking methods, including use of charcoal and electricity.
This way, she is helping to reduce pressure on natural resources including trees which are vanishing at an alarming rate in the country.
The club is also determined to fight against effects of climate change resulting from afforestation.
Besides learning how to make these stoves, the villagers in Chiwalo have also reached a consensus to conserve the environment through agroforestry and vegetable farming.
Dorothy Chipesa’s Tilimbe FFS Club, which comprises 29 women and 10 men, boasts a garden brimming with onion, tomato and cabbage. The fresh farm produce is changing the incomes and nutritional status of their households.
They also have a woodlot comprising various trees. Like all initiatives, the fight against deforestation does not end in clubs, but is being replicated at household level.
“I have a small garden outside my house where I grow various vegetables. I sell some and earn no less than K500 per day. The field school has been helpful to me,” says 58-year-old Edna Chilamwa.
The locals are grateful to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for empowering them with all these skills and knowledge through the Catholic Development Commission in Malawi (Cadecom).
“We started working with Cadecom in 2014 and the impact cannot be overemphasis. We have been equipped with vital skills and knowledge. For this, we are thankful,” says Chilamwa.
Cadecom national secretary Martin Mazinga says the development arm of the Catholic Church is happy to have achieved the intended goal of the project funded by the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) with support from African Solidarity Fund.
“We wanted to build the capacity of most vulnerable households to meet their basic needs and withstand shocks by resisting or adapting their livelihoods hence applied the approach of farmer field school as the mode of implementing resilience building activities,” says Mazinga.
FAO project officer Aubrey Sidik commends Cadecom for successfully implementing the project and pledged a continued support in the future.
As a way of sustaining the project despite it coming to an end, head of the Catholic Church in Malawi, Archbishop Thomas Luke Msusa, recently handed over the project’s intervention to Phalombe District Council.
“After touring some of the farmer field schools in Phalombe, I am impressed with what Cadecom has been doing for the past two years. As a church it is our mandate to complement government’s efforts in uplifting the lives of people,” he says.
Phalombe district commissioner Harry Phiri commends the church organisation for the handover to ensure the interventions are sustainable.
“This is commendable. Let other organisations emulate this gesture,” he says.
The project targeted 840 vulnerable households comprising 580 females and 260 males. There are almost 28 farmer field school clubs, comprising 25-30 farmers each. n