Anna Phiri is 41 and a mother of five sets of twins.
Phiri, who looks younger than her age, says when she gave birth to twins in 1989 during her first pregnancy, she thought that was the only time she would have twins.
When she conceived again and went into labour in 1995, little did she know that another set of twins awaited her. She had four children at the age of 23.
“I was confused,” Phiri says: “I did not know what to make of it. In the end, I just accepted it as God’s wish.”
But if Phiri, who lives in Mpeni Village, Senior Chief Kaomba in Kasungu, thought that she had given birth to twins for the last time, she was wrong as she yet had another set of twins in 1998.
As a poor family living on subsistence farming, Phiri and her husband did all they could to bring up their six children, but they barely managed. It was then that Phiri decided to stop bearing children altogether.
“After I had the third set of twins, I decided I should not conceive again. I went to the hospital and asked for a tubal ligation. But the doctor refused because I had high blood pressure,” she says.
Like many people in villages, Phiri and her husband had never discussed the number of children they would have, but they thought six children in 10 years was more than enough.
Just as Phiri was thinking of having no more children, she got pregnant again, and yet again, gave birth to another set of twins in 2004. The same happened in 2009. This time, she finally had a tubal ligation.
Tubal ligation is a method of permanent sterilisation for women which involves the surgical sealing of the fallopian tubes to prevent pregnancy.
Being subsistence farmers, many villagers find it difficult to provide even for a single child. The thought of bringing up 10 children would, therefore, scare a lot of people.
But the Phiris, despite being subsistence farmers, are not daunted by the task of having to provide for their children, largely because of their involvement in an irrigation scheme.
The Yorodani Irrigation Scheme in Lisasadzi Extension Planning Area (EPA) under Kasungu Agricultural Development Division (ADD) is helping the Phiris to care for their children.
The scheme is part of the Improving Food Security and Nutrition Policies Programme Outreach, an initiative that the Flemish Government is financing through the Flanders International Development Agency (Fica) with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as the executing agency.
The project, which started in 2008 and is now in its second phase, came about as an intervention following the drought of 2005-2006 growing season that affected many parts of the country.
According to a Fica project report. there was excessive crop failure after the 2005-2006 growing season because the majority of farmers depended on rainfall, which created one of the worst food crises in the country.
The purpose of Yorodani Irrigation Scheme, which has 20 members including Phiri, is to encourage farmers to produce more than one crop per year using irrigation.
Farmers are also encouraged to grow drought-tolerant crop varieties such as cassava, sweet potatoes and sorghum. The project also wants farmers to use irrigation to generate income.
Luka Mpeni, the chair for Yorodani Irrigation Scheme, says they embraced irrigation because they realised it did not make sense that they were experiencing hunger when they had plenty of water.
“With help from FAO, we stopped relying on rains to grow food crops,” Mpeni told reporters when they visited the scheme. “Since we grow crops the whole year, we are able to have the six groups of food.”
Fica project manager Wells Kumwenda says when the project started, they thought it would be for three years, but because of its success, it was extended in 2011 and will phase out in 2015.
“We work with government in implementing the project,” says Kumwenda, adding: “Emphasis is on increasing food crop productions. Later, we came in with nutrition for the family and infant.”
He says all that the project is doing is to support government, and that it is government that is doing everything with ministries of Agriculture and Health staff workers, among others, implementing it.
“We are showing communities that food security can be attained using locally available means,” he says.
And Phiri does just that, making available for her 10 children the much-needed six groups of food using irrigation. She says were she to rely on rains, she would have faced great difficulty raising the children.
“Since I started irrigation farming, things have changed. Today, we have food and money,” says Phiri.
During the first phase of the project, over 600 hectares were cultivated in Kasungu and Mzimba under irrigation at a total cost of K114 million (about $285 000).