With 10 bags and a granary full of maize, 70 year-old Lovemore Tachokere enters the 2019/2020 growing season with a peace of mind on food.
He is a proud farmer in Mbenderana Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kasisi in Chikwawa who averted hunger this year.
Tachokere said the last time he achieved food security for his five-member household was in 2002.
“From 2004, I have experienced perennial hunger until last year. I failed to harvest enough because of a drought that thwarted my food production efforts. I also adopted crop varieties that were not tolerant to drought, dry spells, pests and diseases,” he recalled.
However, this year’s bumper harvest happened amid the worse effects of climate change and hot weather conditions in the district that choke crop production.
According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), environmental degradation makes the country vulnerable to drought, floods, dry spells, among other climate shocks.
With a smile, Tachokere attributed his food security feat to growing of indigenous crops.
“I planted local maize varieties that performed better. They matured earlier and gave high yields enabling my family to harvest five oxcarts and 20 bags of 50 kilograms of maize despite long dry spells that hit the area,” he said.
A farmer in Chikalumpha Village in T/A Katunga, Agnes Mpando, said the crops have built their resilience to the effects of climate change.
“The crops have assured us of food security as they are drought resistant and tolerant to dry spells, pests and diseases. Unlike other varieties, the indigenous varity yielded more,” she said.
These are two of the farmers who achieved food security courtesy of Enhanced Support for Farmers Rights in Malawi (Esfarm) project meant to promote the farmers’ managed seed system in the district.
The project being run by Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (Cepa) with funds from Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa) restores local varieties of maize, sorghum, finger and pearl millets, bambara nuts, pigeon and cowpeas, yams and sesame, among others.
Malawi Plant Genetic Resources Centre (MPGRC) commonly known as Genebank at Chitedze Research Station in Lilongwe provided the seeds.
Apart from food security, a farmer in Fodya Village Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngabu, George Melo, said blessings of local varieties are immense.
“I had enough to sell and support my development projects. I built a three-bedroomed house with a corrugated iron roof. I bought livestock and I have 13 goats, 25 chickens and 25 guinea fowls,” he said.
In partnership with the department of human ecology at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi (Unima), Cepa runs a similar project in Thyolo: Promoting Farmers Rights and Collective Marketing Food and Nutrition Security (Pro-Farmer).
One of the farmers in Sani Village Traditional Authority (T/A) Naseta in Thyolo, Hilda Mtiya, vouched to embrace local variety crops for sustainable food and nutrition security.
“There is nthikinya, kanjerenjere, kachiswe and chisowa local maize varieties to choose from. These are not only full of carbohydrates, but also high in vitamin A quantity. And even the flour has longer usage utility than other varieties,” she said.
Another farmer, Sautso Lifuredi, said they have diversified food baskets by intensifying growing of local variety crops of sorghum, bambara nuts, pigeon and cowpeas, finger and pearl millets, sesame and yams.
The farmers hailed the interventions for restoring the varieties which were eroded.
The food and nutrition security developments have made one of Matapwata EPA agriculture extension development officer in Thyolo, Precious Kuwerengeza, to endorse growing of the varieties among small-scale farmers.
“These crops have been grown in their areas for a long time and are resilient to current climate shocks,” she said.
In an interview, MPGRC assistant agricultural research officer, Wilson Bickiel, said farmers should be encouraged to grow the crops to conserve breeding blocks of hybrid seeds.
Cepa biodiversity program officer, Elizabeth Namaona, said government must promote farmer managed seed system to complement its efforts of achieving food security in the country.
“The system comprises more than 70 percent of seed in the country’s agriculture sector. This development needs to be addressed in seed policy and bill failure. Through the farmers’ testimonies, enhancing the system assures food and nutrition securities of communities,” she said.
Pro-Farmer monitoring and evaluation manager at Unima, Dr Mayeso Lazaro, said small-scale farmers must plant seed that does well in their agro ecological zones.
“Farmers have realised the importance of growing and storing these crops. They need deliberate policies to enjoy right to grow, save, sell and exchange farmer saved seed. Remember that these farmers are responsible for the bulk of Malawi’s food security as they contribute about 80 percent of food in the country,” he highlighted.