With most land barren, it is difficult to have bumper yields without fertiliser application in Malawi. This prompted the government in the 2005/06 growing season to introduce the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) for smallholder farmers to access fertilisers and seeds for maize production.
Like most needy Malawians, who do not benefit from the programme, Hastings Chimwenje of Magaleta Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mlauli in Neno experienced perennial hunger.
“I am one of the intended beneficiaries, but coupons have been insufficient to cater for all of us here. Every year, my family faced hunger because I could not harvest enough without fertiliser,” says Chimwenje.
Floods, erratic rains, prolonged dry spells and uncertain rainfall patterns, among other effects of climate change, have also affected food security and agriculture production for most needy Malawians.
“Those effects have added misery to our food production,” says Chimwenje, whose crops once wilted due to erratic rains.
Now Chimwenje wears a beaming face. The father of five children has harvested 30 bags of maize, which are enough for the family until next harvesting season.
He attributes the first bumper harvest since effects of climate change wrecked havoc in Neno to the application of manure in his garden.
The member of Thanga la Ng’ombe Farmers’ Field School under Strengthening Community Resilience to Climate Change (SCRCC)—an initiative of the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM) in partnership with Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) with funding from European Union (EU)— says manure gave his family many returns.
The project, which strives to help 840 smallholder farmers’ in Neno achieve food security, engages farmers in manure making and fertiliser multiplication, tree planting and natural forest regeneration, soil and water management, crop diversification, planting of hybrid and local drought-resistant crops and irrigation, among other components, to adapt to climate change.
Chimwenje says with manure he does not regret for not benefitting from Fisp in this year’s growing season.
“It has increased my maize production on a hectare piece of land from 40 kilogrammes [kg] in past seasons to 1 500 kg this season,” he says. “That failure of Fisp challenged me to put emphasis on manure making lessons from the farmers’ field school. Manure is cheap and a solution to lack of fertiliser among rural smallholder farmers.”
The farmers made the manure, which were ready for use within 14 days, by mixing three 15-litre buckets of dung with one 15-litre bucket of ash, debris in form of plants and 10 litres of water.
Fanny Chitsulo of Tikondane Farmers’ Field School in Kandoje Village, T/A Symon says erratic rains in the area affected yields of those who applied fertilizer.
“Manure has enhanced maize resilience to effects of climate change as it improved soil texture, fertility and retention of moisture,” she says.
It is evident that manure has weaned them from the State-funded Fisp.
Apart from manure, the farmers embraced pit planting method. Chimwenje says it improved crop production by holding moisture enough to save crops from the dry spells the district experienced.
Maize is the staple grain in Malawi and its shortage translates to hunger. Sadly, the crop is prone to effects of climate change. Communities’ over-dependence on maize leaves them with no other crop to lean on when it fails.
EnifaSosten from Magaleta Village, who was among the 6.5 million people that faced hunger in the 2015/2016 growing season, says the field school has changed the mindset that acknowledges maize as the only food.
For the first time she diversified her crops. This broadened her family food basket and expanded the income.
“If maize had failed, still, I could have been saved from hunger because of pigeon peas and cassava. I will sell pigeon peas to get money to pay school fees for my children and build a house with corrugated iron roof,” says Sosten.
Watson Galasiyano of Chiyambi Farmers’ Field School in Kantuwale Village in T/A Mlauli says implementation of the components also saved their crops from false army worms’ attack.
EAM project officer Amos Bandawe says they provide farming methods that help communities to cope up with effects of climate change.
“We need them to harvest enough even in the wake of erratic rains and conserve the environment for sustainable development in the district.
“Fertilizer multiplication component will reduce dependence on the State-funded Fisp as farmers can make 50 kgs of the commodity from 15 kgs and apply to 0.2 hectares of a maize plot,” he says.
EAM community-based facilitator in T/A Symon, TamikaniMughogho, adds that field practicals and success achieved will sustain the conservation agriculture practices in the targeted areas.