Agnes Michael Alimoyo is 50 years old, single mother of 7 children she comes from Traditional Authority Mkanda in Mulanje. She wakes up very early in the morning to water her vegetables in the garden before she has breakfast. Ever since her husband died in 2018, life has been difficult as she had to provide for her children alone. She used to rely on piece works to get some money to buy food.

When KULIMA BETTER project introduced the farmer field school approach, she joined in 2018 because she wanted to change her story. At Tipindule FFS, I learnt about one-to-one planting, and I saw that on the same piece of land I was harvesting 10 bags, I started harvesting 25 bags in the year 2019.

“One thing I always admired to have, was a treadle pump so that I could be growing three times a year. I started planting tomato last year and bought a second- hand treadle pump at K35,000,” says Agnes.

Food Availability and improved diet

Agnes boasts of never buying maize anymore because she always has enough maize throughout the year. “At first my family used to skip breakfast and instead ate twice a day because we could not afford breakfast.”

Agnes says this is history because she has grown cassava, sweet potatoes and she has fruit trees such as orange, lemons, guavas, avocado pears, and mangoes in her house compound. I also have 8 chickens, pigeons. She also has orange, alvocado pears and guava fruit trees around her household.

Value addition

Agnes grows cassava for food and income, she dries the cassava strips which is sold to people. People use them to make flour and snacks called ‘Zikhele’ fried cassava strips.

Improved income

I have graduated from growing maize for food, I also sell some and my income has risen from 1,000 per day to around 10,000 per day.

Agnes Michael Alimoyo, Tipindule FFS Member in Mulanje showing how she is diversifying farming by growing cassava

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By Pauline Mbukwa, Self Help Africa

Mercy Selemani,46 from Chiwaula Village, Traditional Authority Malengachanzi, in Linga EPA in Nkhotakota is married with four children. She joined Kachere FFS in 2019. Before she joined the group, she lacked the knowledge and skills in how she could  increase her production.

“I used to grow maize, but I was still practising the traditional way of planting 3 maize seed per planting station, the yield was low. When Kachere FFS came to our village, I learnt about various farming methods specifically the one plant per station which has contributed to double production from 12 bags to 25 bags of 50kgs maize” Selemani says. In addition to following the technologies that she learnt at the FFS; she also joined VSL in 2019   where she made savings amounting to K300,000 which she used  to build her 4 bedrooms house.

“I am happy, I have a modern house, this is a dream come true for me and my family. Our diet has also improved because I always have money every week, because I bought a bicycle which is used for business so every week, I receive not less than K7,000.00,” Selemani explains.

“Mercy is one of the star performers at Kachere FFS; whenever she is not sure about a certain technology, she consults. She is one of the hardworking members and a role model to her fellow farmers,” concludes Benjamin Mitole, the Master Trainer.

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“I almost gave up farming in 2018, because despite all the efforts I was putting into it, I was still not able to make ends meet. I used to harvest 20 bags every year, but this was not enough to feed my family for the whole year;” narrates Edson Gwaye,44, from Ufanile Gwaye, Traditional Authority Kampingu Sibale, Eswazini EPA in Mzimba South.

“I sometimes thought people use magic to increase their production. In the same year, I was elected to be the community Based Facilitator for Jalawe FFS with a membership of 30 (9 males and 21 females).  Ever since I started implementing climate smart agriculture practices in my garden; I have noted an increase in production. In 2019 I harvested 35 bags, in 2020 I harvested 85 bags and this year 2020/2021; I am expecting not less than 85 bags. I learnt about CSA technologies such as agroforestry, pit planting, minimum tillage, Mbeya manure making and application at the farmer field school plot,” explains Gwaye.

Jalawe FFS also has Banana study plot where they are comparing the performance of the different varieties namely Sukali, Harare, Kapeni, Mulanje, Zomba red, Dyali. The FFS initially had 50 plants and now have 150 plants. Every member has grown 12 plants in their own plots.

“Our vision is to have a maize meal to be used as an Income generating activity, this would help us to grow our income,” explains Gwaye.

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Today 25th November 2021, the KULIMA Programme held its fifth Programme Steering Committee (PSC) meeting at BICC in Lilongwe. The meeting was chaired by the Secretary for Agriculture, Mrs. Erica Maganga. The objective of the meeting was to review progress in implementation for the period April-October 2021 for PSC members to offer strategic guidance.

In her remarks, the PS advised implementing partners to start developing exit strategies and strengthening sustainability measures. In addition, she advised members to start taking stock of some of the impact the programme is making and lessons learnt for future programming of similar interventions. Implementing partners were also advised to devise ways to further strengthen collaboration and synergies among the various components of the programme. Furthermore, Implementing partners were also urged partners to strengthen structures within the KULIMA districts so that once the Programme ends, the interventions should be sustained beyond programme implementation. The meeting, which was held both physically and virtually, was attended by most PSC members and all implementing partners.

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Prolonged drought and inadequate rainfall expose vulnerable communities to economic shocks that usually threaten their livelihoods. Unfortunately, most farmers in rural areas do not have access to reliable and accurate information on weather and smart agricultural technologies and drought resistant crops. Using the Farmer Field School (FFS) model, farmers in the area of Group Village Head (GVH) William Ngwenya of Mzimba district are identifying modern ways of farming to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Headson Mwanza is a member of Mwawiwithu Farmer Field School (FFS) in Kamwanza Village under GVH William Ngwenya under Inkosi Mmbelwa. The FFS group which has 13 men, and 17 women was formed under KULIMA BETTER project implemented by Plan International through funding from European Union.  The objective of the project is to improve household resilience to climate related shocks. In its initial phase of implementation, the project conducted a participatory vulnerability capacity assessment in the area and identified drought as one of the main hazards affecting farmer’s productivity.

“We used to have uncertainties as to when the rains are going to start and how the rainy season will go” explains Headson, a member of Mwawiwithu FFS. “This affected our production as we gambled a lot with our farming resulting in crop loss which affected our food security and livelihoods as a whole,” he says.

As a way of addressing this challenge, the project procured and installed rain gauges in all the extension planning areas to capture accurate data on rainfall in real time. The project in collaboration with the climate change and meteorology services trained data collectors in recording and reporting of the rainfall data. This information is then consolidated at district level and shared with community radios for dissemination.

With the collaboration that the project has with local community radios, the collected data is aggregated and disseminated through the radios.

“I make sure to tune in to Mzimba Community Radio because I listen to the weather updates every day and make informed decisions on activities that I can do on my field”

The FFS consists of groups of farmers who get together to study a particular topic. The topics vary from conservation agriculture, organic agriculture, animal and soil husbandry to income generating activities such as handicrafts.  FFS provides opportunities for learning by doing. They teach basic agricultural and management skills that make farmers experts in their own farms. The farmers are also trained in different smart agriculture technologies such as pit planting, application of manure, one-one method of planting and use of different drought resistance crops.

“Coupled with the trainings on climate smart agriculture, I am able to make informed decisions on which crop to grow in that season and what technologies to use because I have an idea of how the season is going to be”, adding that this has helped him to reduce uncertainties that he faced in his farming in the past years.

Diversifying to the drought resistance crops, Headson, 46, who after learning from the FFS decided to plant sweet potatoes. Boasting about his success in the previous seasons, he shares how he has been able to sell the produce and use the money to service his maize mill.

“I did not have to go to South Africa like a lot of men do in this community in search of green pastures. All I had to do was to listen to what our CBF was teaching us. So last season apart from using pit planting to grow maize, I also focused on sweet potatoes where I managed to make over MWK100, 000.00 from the sales alone” says Headson joyfully.

Headson also taught his children farming and gave them a piece of land to plant their own sweet potatoes. They managed to also make over MWK100,000.00. Headson and his family are now living a healthy and progressive lifestyle despite frequent inadequate rainfall.

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By Joseph Fatch

Chapopoma farmer Field school situated in Wadokosa village, T/A Kabunduli, in Nkhatabay has transformed livelihoods of many families. The school started in 2018 and has a total membership of 28 where 4 are males while 24 are females. From the time the school started, a lot of studies have been completed. These studies include the pest management in many crops such as Bananas, variety comparison in Maize, and soil fertility management in vegetables.

After the farmers tried and proved the technologies learnt, they thought of scaling up to other ventures. The group found capital from selling its crops and through group savings and loans. In 2020 the group made K150,000 from selling sweet potatoes and K100,000 from selling maize. This income made them to look up to other group ventures and they agreed on exploring fish farming.

“We thought that it was still relevant for us to stay together as a group even after studies were completed. The money we got from selling crops was used to get materials for constructing a fishpond which we constructed using our own hands. Looking at the nature of the land and the availability of resources we knew that this type of farming would work out. We started with 46 fish which were obtained from another pond within the locality. The type of fish which we have in the pond is Shiranus,” says Christina Kaira- Member.

“We expect to harvest 2000 fish in the pond. Part of the group contribution is used to buy feed for the fish and it is the responsibility of every member to feed the fish and we have a duty roster which everyone complies to. We also invest in opening additional ponds. We want to be millionaires in a few years.” Kaira concludes.

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By Chawanangwa Nyirenda,  Plan Malawi International

Darius, 28 , was forced to go out of the country in search for greener pastures. A journey that was meant to be a break through turned into a heart break as he was not able to find the economic opportunities he was longing for. He decided to come back to Malawi in 2017 to find his way through. The savings he had made while in foreign country were used to join a  village savings and lending group. The interest rate was high so prospects were minimal.

Fortunately for Darius, when  European Union funded KULIMA BETTER through Plan International Malawi started in Traditional Authority Kampingo Sibande in Mzimba district, he was selected to be part of Chankhomi Farmer Field School (FFS).  The FFS was established with the aim of identifying solutions to challenges that farmer were experiencing in the community as well as strengthening their livelihood. In order to increase resilience of farmers, the group also engaged in village savings and loans where members buy shares and lend money at an interest. With the training support that the project provided to the group, Darius and his colleagues have been able to make profits from the shares they bought.

“We have experienced a great change with this new approach” he says. We learnt of ways of controlling loan limits and calculation of interest. We also improved on our cash security through the use of cash boxes which significantly improved our trust in our “local bank”, a thing that resulted in more people mobilising their savings.” explains Darius.

Plan International stresses that while financial exclusion is a direct impediment to youth and female empowerment, but evidence-based accessible, collective credit and savings mechanisms such as Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) can help to generate assets at community level.

Prior to joining FFS, Darius had limited access to economic assets to sustain his family. After being equipped with knowledge on planting improved variety crops that are drought resistant to improve gains he decided to invest MWK120, 000 he gained from the VSL in Paprika and maize production.

“The VSL group helps us to find means of producing the crops that can assist our livelihoods. With the lessons learnt from the FFS groups, we were encouraged to try out improved  varieties, so I decided to grow paprika and maize in the last growing season. It was one the best decisions that I have ever done as I was able to make MWK270, 000.00 after selling my produce.”

“From that money I managed to roof my house and buy pigs. I want to intensify livestock husbandry as well to provide me with an alternative source of income” says Darius.

A focused Darius will not stop there, his eyes are now focusing on poultry production. He is planning to use his savings from VSL on poultry farming as he has established that it is more marketable in the nearest markets of his community.

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Ethel Mwamadi comes from Mtengo wa Minga village, Group Village Headman Mchingalombo, T/A Kabunduli in Nkhatabay district. Ethel is a widow with 4 children, her husband died about 10 years ago in Zomba. She was left with so many problems. She decided to join Takondwa farmer field school (FFS).

Takondwa FFS was established in 2018 and has 30 members; 7 males and 23 females. This is where she has been learning good agricultural practices which transformed her crop production after she applied the technologies to her farm.

“I joined Takondwa FFS in 2018 after I lost my husband years ago. We always experienced hunger due to low productivity because we did not know how to use our land properly. I have learnt quite a lot from the farmer field school for example planting one maize per station unlike in the past when we planted more than three in the same planting station. Today I am proud to have produced 18 bags on the same acre which was producing 2 bags only previously,” Ethel said.

Takondwa FFS also has a saving and loan group where Ethel saves and gets loans to sustain her house.

Ethel Mwamadi Takondwa FFS, Nkhatabay showing off the remaining maize in PICS bags

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