Ukama Ustawi’s Malawi farmer field visits post cyclone Freddy

The CGIAR's Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa visited farmers in Malawi as part of its efforts to offer small scale farmers support.

Ukama Ustawi’s Malawi farmer field visits post cyclone Freddy[April 6, 2023: Malawi] Just off the heels of Cyclone Freddy – a long-lived, deadly tropical storm that purportedly claimed over 1,200 lives in Malawi at the start of 2023 – the CGIAR‘s Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa (also known as Ukama Ustawi) visited farmers in Malawi as part of its efforts to offer small scale farmers support at such a time as this.

CGIAR Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa“Together with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the regional NGO, Total LandCare and the Ministry of Agriculture’s extension officers, we work hand-in-hand with small scale farmers in Malawi. I have personally been involved with climate smart farming projects in Malawi for almost two decades. We empower and equip locals to strive for climate smart farming techniques that not only take up less farming land, but also produce more. We call this sustainable intensification. To this end, there are conservation agriculture trials that have been going strong for no less than 18 years – and it is these trials and other innovative farmers that we have come to see, to get their first-hand account of how the floods and storms have affected them – and to offer continued support,” says Dr Christian Thierfelder, Ukama Ustawi Work Package 1 Lead: Diversify and Sustainably Intensify Maize-Based Farming Systems.

These efforts are significant because East and Southern Africa is a climate hotspot, with more than US$45 billion in agricultural production at risk from higher temperatures, shorter growing seasons and more extreme droughts and floods. Maize, a staple crop covering up to 75% of cropland in parts of the region, is particularly vulnerable and is projected to face yield declines of 15%, among other climate impacts if no adaptation measures are being implemented. Many of the affected areas already have serious levels of hunger and malnutrition, with the highest burden experienced by women and youth from marginalized, vulnerable communities. Therefore, if these systems are sustainably diversified, they could contribute to stabilize the regional and global agrifood systems.

“Whatever the case, Malawi has to feed herself.  And for us to do that, we need to do things right. So, over these initiatives that we have committed to today, we need to work together because Malawi must be sufficient and feed herself. Goals must be achieved at a local and international level, and so we are glad that we are moving towards the right direction. Agriculture is the science of farming. We need to apply science to whatever we are doing – and that’s why we are pleased to work with you,” says Adrick Bernard, Program Manager of Machinga Agricultural Development Division, under the Ministry of Agriculture.

This field visit culminated in a Virtual Field Tour which presented the initiative team with front-row seats into the heart and soul of the most remote parts of Malawi, to see how ordinary farmers are empowered towards resilience against the effects of climate change. In addition, the team was able to come face-to-face with the challenges, threats and opportunities the communities in southern Malawi are facing. Rather than only seeing pictures or hearing reports of how the flood water and downpours have affected the most vulnerable in Malawi, this event gave them a voice and allowed them to tell their unedited stories, showcase their climate-smart harvest and impact stories.

Generational pursuits by climate-smart farmers

“Our Malawian conventional farming methods rely on a hoe and ridges. As you can see, I am an elderly lady and would no longer we able to make use of this tool as it requires strength. It would be difficult to cultivate my fields and work to provide for my family. That’s why I am so grateful for the new climate smart methodology that you have introduced me and my family to. It does not rely on a hoe and offers friendly farming methods that can be adopted by everyone, including someone like me. The weather is becoming extreme and unpredictable and it is very unusual to have such heavy rains at this time of the year, which makes me and my sons even more grateful for how you have not only taught us to use less land to produce more, but going the extra mile to give us different varieties of seeds that can withstand the rains,” says Georgina Mkhanu (75), a small scale farmer from Nkhotakota district, Malawi who has been involved with climate-smart projects led by the CIMMYT project since 2012.

According to Mcfonic Nkhanu and Jairos Nkhanu, the sons of Georgina Nkhanu, they saw how the program helped their mom to overcome the challenges women in farming face in Malawi, which include, but are not limited to space for cultivation, access to input such as seeds and fertilizer, chemicals and more. “We grew up seeing what you do for our mother, and she has passed down these lessons and modern techniques to us. We hope to carry on with these farming methods when we someday take over the fields, and wish to also educate the next generation about them because we are fully convinced that they work,” adds Mcfonic and Jairos Nkhanu.

The technology Ukama Ustawi rolls out in Malawi which allows small scale farmers and their families to withstand the effects of climate change more effectively include drought resilient seed varieties, increased flood resilience due to a flat earth farming technique which prevents water logging in between ridges, which results in higher yield due to intercropping and the ability to plant closer together.

Reach one, reach 10,000

“I used to see what you did for others in the community – and so in 2006, I gathered the courage to ask to join in. You gave me the courage to empower myself, get new skills to grow my crops and even find my voice. In 2012, I was privileged to attend a SADC meeting in Lilongwe to talk about conservation agriculture and how it mitigates climate change. I was also privileged to travel to America to talk about conservation agriculture and how it affects the different households in Malawi regarding climate change.

I can attest that these modern methods work because I can see that in my fields and how – through this organization – many people across Malawi have adopted these science-based approaches. To this end, I have taken it upon myself to also teach what I have learned to others,” concludes Grace Malaitcha, who is a trainer for Total LandCare and has since trained over 10,000 farmers.

For more information on this media release and/or to arrange interviews with industry experts please contact:

Phindiwe Nkosi
Communications & Knowledge Management Expert
Mobile: +27 72 618 4275

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