James Antoniyo from Mwalija village in the area of Traditional Authority Chimwala in Mangochi will live to remember what he described as the worst floods to have hit his village in many years.
One night in January this year, Antoniyo and other villagers woke up to horrifying sounds of gushing waters from the mountain, following incessant rains.
The waters swept away large hectares of maize gardens, reduced houses into rubble and did not spare domestic animals like goats.
Eventually, people of Mwalija village became destitute, relying on handouts from government and other organisations, following a declaration of emergency by President Peter Mutharika.
However, in the aftermath of the devastating floods, life has to return to normal and communities have realised, hard work is a must.
Against this background, the Catholic Church’s development arm, Catholic Development Commission in Malawi (Cadecom) has introduced a community managed disaster risk reduction and entrepreneurship programme to address the needs of the communities which were affected.
“The programme seeks to improve and sustain the livelihoods of 53 communities through small-scale mitigative works. The programme also seeks to promote environmental rehabilitation and protect the environment through aforestation,” says Steve Kasiya, Cadecom’s field officer for Mangochi district.
In an effort to address environmental challenges, the community has planted 9 000 seedlings in the catchment area which is now bare because people have cut down trees wantonly.
However, journalists on tour discovered that that survival rate of the seedlings is minimal because goats and other domestic animals mow the seedlings.
“The department of forestry needs to come in and work with the communities if the catchment area is to be restored,” says Kasiya.
In order to sustain food security, Cadecom is also working with the people of Mwalija village to grow crops, especially maize through irrigation farming along Lake Malombe.
Cadecom, in partnership with government extension workers, is also teaching the subsistence farmers modern farming methods, providing them fertilizers and treadle pumps and it seems people are beginning to realise that they are suffering from perpetual hunger amidst plenty waters.
Antonio, who is chairperson for the group, says: “We are now able to grow maize twice. Some of it we sell while green and make money to buy other necessities at home.”
An agricultural extension development officer, Diana Ngulumba of Chimwala section applauds the relationship that exists between government and its partners like Cadecom, saying government cannot do everything alone.
She adds lives of the people from surrounding villages especially women have now improved because they have food for their families.
Other livelihood programmes include a goat pass-on programme, village savings and loans and other income-generating activities like making of energy saving stoves.
But will the communities be able to sustain these interventions?
Kasiya believes the farmers have acquired enough knowledge to continue with the livelihood programs, especially that government extension workers will continue to engage with the communities.
Rumphi district is also not spared with Cadecom interventions. Rumphi residents particularly those from the area of paramount chief Chikulamayembe have commended Cadecom for implementing in their area a five year project called Australia Africa Community Engagement Scheme (Aaces) which has increased their food production and improved water sanitation and further empowered them financially through village bank loans among others.
Under food security, 1 488 households have increased their yields from an average of two (50 kilogrmme) bags of maize per acre to 10, groundnut production from an average of 20 kilogrammes to 500 kilogrammes per acre and soya production from 50 kilogrammes to 700 kilogrammes per acre.
The project has also put 300 households on irrigation farming on a seven hectare piece of land and another 1 145 households are practising vertical gardening which has increased vegetable production. Further, 845 households are now owning different types of livestock.
Cadecom national programmes coordinator Martin Mazinga said the project was aimed at improving livelihoods of the people through food security, water, hygiene and sanitation with emphasis on increasing access to services by the marginalized. The project also tackled gender, HIV and Aids, child protection, village savings and loans, disaster preparedness and management and natural resource management.
Villagers are thankful for the gestures.
“We are grateful to Cadecom for this borehole which is serving 70 households in this Kamphere village. Before Cadecom brought the borehole, we used to drink from swamps together with animals,” Suzana Nkhonjera, chairperson for the borehole committee.