By Charity Chimphamba, Self Help Africa

Standford Mwakainga,58, married with five children (two girls and three boys) lives in Mwangulukulu village in the area of Traditional Authority Mwakaboko in Karonga district. Mwakainga is a vice chairperson of Kolapansi Farmer Field School (FFS) in Mwangulukulu Section in Kaporo North Extension Planning Area (EPA).

Kolapansi FFS is one of the FFSs that conducted studies on banana production to compare performance and yield of different banana varieties. Mwakainga being a member of the FFS participated and learned from the outcome of the studies. Even though he had started banana production in the year 2000 for both commercial and consumption at home, his production was far below the outcome of the study that was done by his FFS. He immediately adopted the technologies and agronomic practices and his production improved.

“Before joining Kolapansi FFS, I had no knowledge about good agronomic practices of banana crop like planting in lines, keeping three plants per station, pruning, manure application and even treating the suckers before planting, “he explained, pointing at old bananas plantations behind his house.

Mwakainga said that the yield used to be low and the bunches were very small during time he was growing bananas traditionally due competition for soil nutrients as there were many plants per station.

“Through Kolopansi FFS I have learned how to take good care of my banana garden to prevent diseases by weeding, pruning and removing of excess sackers,” he said.

Black and yellow sigatoka are some of the disease that have affected his banana production currently due to high rainfall and humidity in the field. However, in 2019 one of the bananas in the traditionally planted area was affected by Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV). “The banana was not growing, and the leaves were more erect, “I informed Nandimbwa, our Community Based Facilitator and she came to see the plant,” he explained. It was Nandimbwa who told him that it was BBTV and advised him to uproot all the bananas from that planting station and throw them away.

According to Mwakainga, he likes banana production because it is a reliable source of income and food which is always available throughout the year.

“I want to thank EU and Self Help Africa for training us on banana production, before the project, I used to get K 4000 (Four Thousand Malawi Kwacha per month from banana sales but now I can get up to K 10 000 (Ten thousand Malawi Kwacha) per month on average after selling suckers and banana fruits,” he said.

Mwakainga uses the money to support her family with household basic needs and he is also using the money to finish construction of his newly constructed house which is in incomplete state. Through Kolapansi FFS, Mwakainga has also learnt different food recipes from banana including banana chips, banana juice and one-pot dish which they have adopted at his home.

“From 2018 banana production has increased in Mwangulukulu village due to production trainings that are done through FFS groups and awareness through field days.” Nandimbwa echoed. According to Nandimbwa there is high demand for banana and banana sackers within and outside Mwangulukulu section hence there is potential increase in gross production of banana in the area. Apart from bananas, Mwakainga also produces rice, maize and cocoa for commercial and household consumption.

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by Blessings Nyirenda

A distinct feature of the Farmer Field School approach is the use of Agroecosystem Analysis process commonly known as AESA. This is a tool that farmers use to collect and analyse data on how the crop is performing in response to the different treatments that it is subjected to. The process involves taking measurements of the crop, observing the field conditions, checking for pests and disease infestation and finally making decisions on what to be done in order to improve the situation. The group identifies parameters which they think will help them to analyse the performance of their crop which are then measured periodically.

Group members taking measurements on a bean plant. Photo by Blessings Nyirenda. Plan International

‘’We conduct AESA on our bean crop every Tuesday when we meet early in the morning before the insects go into hiding’’, says Kita Master Tembo, a Community Based Facilitator for Tiunike Farmer Field School as he organises his members in small groups called host teams. This, he says, helps them to identify insect pests (farmers’ enemy) and beneficial insects (farmers friend). “We have five plots of kholophete beans with different treatments and as such they have to be measured separately to understand the effects of each treatment on the crop” he adds. Tembo explains that the AESA process helps farmers to understand the life of the crop which coupled with special trainings received they can apply treatments to improve the crop stand.

“Sometimes the process helps us to understand that the treatment applied to the crop is not effective or not well applied when we see that there is no improvement in the crop. That too is a lesson,” he concludes.

After the AESA process, the FFS groups have learnt a simple way of presenting their findings to the group members through a chart that is drawn on a flip chart. “The chart is important because it helps us to present the findings as well as keep records of the previous week,” a thing that helps in storage of records of the group.

Tiunike Farmer Field School is one of the FFS groups in Manyamula EPA, located in Solomon Tembo Village, Traditional Authority Mmbelwa in Mzimba district under Kulima BETTER project. The group has a membership of 30 farmers, 16 women and 14 men. The FFS group is currently conducting a validation study on bean plant population by using different planting spacing. Kulima BETTER project is being implemented by Plan International in collaboration with Self Help Africa and Ministry of Agriculture with financial support from the European Union.


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Empowering youths for climate action- KULIMA project at Day of Ideas

By Memory Nyemba

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) participated in the Day of Ideas on 26 September, showcasing various climate smart technologies which farmers are learning under the European Union (EU)-funded KULIMA programme.

The sharing of these technologies at the event was in line with the Day of Ideas theme of Climate Change, which also aligns with the current global focus on youth and climate action.

The KULIMA exhibit showcased conservation agriculture; permaculture; banana planting; tree regeneration; controlled bush fires; energy saving cook stoves;  and early maturing crop varieties. It also made available, leaflets providing information on topics such as orange-fleshed sweet potato production to help fill the minds of the 300 youths that visited the KULIMA exhibition.

With two Farmer Field School (FFS) master trainers and 10 FFS community-based facilitators, who have been trained under the EU-funded KULIMA programme leading the sessions, one of the key messages from the exhibition the importance of critical thinking and rational decision making in farming, in the context of multiple challenges that affect farming enterprises, including climate change.

Speaking about youth and climate action, Mr Watford Banda, the Extension Methodologies Officer for Nkhatabay District Agriculture office, who is also the KULIMA Focal Point in the district had this to say, “Educating the youths on issues of management of the effects of climate change is very crucial because they are the future leaders and future parents. The population of the youths in Malawi is higher, and at the same time, young people are quick to learn. This means that involving them at an early stage can help to have a great impact on managing or reversing the adverse effects of climate change in the areas where they live. Educating the youths on climate change will empower them to take care of the environment.”

The youths involved on this day were students from primary and secondary schools around Kachere and Tukombo areas which included Kachere Primary School, Kapanda CDSS, Chiomba Primary School and Kazando Primary School. Practical sessions were conducted with them for skills sharing on how to carry out some of the technologies that were on show.

The Day of Ideas is a platform that targets young people with information, focusing on interactive information dissemination and ideas sharing. It is staged as a pre-cursor to the infamous Lake of Stars festival.

Through the EU-funded KULIMA programme, FAO and the government of Malawi are implementing interventions that contribute to the promotion of sustainable agricultural growth and incomes to enhance food and nutrition security in Malawi within the context of a changing climate.

Youth showcasing some of the technologies at the event

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197 extension workers and lead farmers graduate from farmer field school master trainers’ course

June was a celebratory month at Mzuzu, Lisasadzi and Thuchila Residential Training Centres (RTCs) with 197 extension workers and lead farmers graduating from season-long Farmer Field School (FFS) Master Trainers’ courses. The graduates are now FFS master trainers (MTs) and community based facilitators (CBFs), respectively, having completed training facilitated under the European Union (EU) funded KULIMA project, Revitalizing Agriculture Clusters and Ulimi wa M’ndandanda through Farmer Field Schools. The project is enhancing institutionalization and quality assurance of FFS and strengthening capacity development on the FFS methodology within the framework of the District Agricultural Extension                   Services System (DAESS) in the country.

Speaking at the Lisasadzi RTC graduation function on behalf of Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture, Director of Fisheries, Dr. Friday Njaya said, “The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development strongly believes that Farmer Field School is one of the most relevant methodologies in addressing critical challenges in the agricultural economy”.

On his part Dr. Jerome Chim’gonda-Nkhoma, Director of Agricultural Extension Services, said at Thuchila RTC regarding FFS and food security, “I want to let you know that there are several methodologies that the Ministry uses to reach out to many farmers. One of them is the Farmer Field School. The Farmer Field School approach is used for capacity building and empowering farmers to increase household food and nutritional security, increased incomes and resilience to climate change”.

Expressing elation and gratitude, newly graduated Master Trainer at Thuchila RTC, Blessings Kidnie Malimba said: “I thank the EU for starting this KULIMA programme which has opened our eyes to new skills that will change the districts of Mulanje, Chiradzulu, and Thyolo districts when it comes to food, nutrition and income security”.

Since the tailored training courses kicked off in January 2018, 185 (30% female) extension workers and 196 (31% female) CBFs have completed courses at the three RTCs. The Revitalizing Agriculture Clusters and Ulimi wa M’ndandanda through Farmer Field Schools project is implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with the Government of Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.

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Farming as a business, Farming with a purpose

Members of Chitontho Farmer Field School (FFS) report that when they chose to go into pineapple farming in April 2019, they decided to take farming as their business. They were farming with a purpose, and that was income and nutrition security for their households. Fast forward to today, nearly a year later, they say that their initial confidence is unwavering and their progress steady.

Based in Kakowa village, Nkhotakota district, the 42-member group’s 1.8-hectare piece of land is a sea of yellowish-green pineapple crowns, with 53,000 plants that have already started bearing fruits. With an average selling price of MK500 per pineapple fruit, Chitontho FFS members’ potential earnings stand at MK35 million per annum after the first year, where harvests will increase from 53,000 in the first year to an estimated 70 000 fruits in subsequent years. In addition, through sales of pineapple, potential annual earnings stand at MK 10 million, with suckers sold at MK200 each.

Nkhotakota, a district that is not known traditionally for pineapple production, this venture while not unique, is fairly new, not only to the local surroundings, but also to the district at large. So how did they come to this rewarding decision?

FFS community based facilitator and chairperson of Chitontho FFS, Mr. Rhamadani Saidi, explains that looking at the challenges that everyone was experiencing in their farming especially with local crop enterprises, with low yields and little income, their decision was unanimous and it came easy.

“Most of what we grow already, such as maize and rice, are low yielding crops, and fetch inadequate income. We therefore had to try something different. We had to try something that would bring in a good amount of money for us as farmers,” he says.

Echoing Saidi’s sentiments is Tabiya Jafali, a mother of three young children and a member of the Chitontho FFS who had this to say,

“I have been farming rice for years and have had very little return over the years. It has been increasingly difficult to meet my children’s needs at home and to have enough money for school fees. This is what convinced me that it is better to try a new venture of pineapple production”.

Since planting, the group has learnt much about growing pineapple. AEDC, Ethel Mwase who supports the group says that the FFS learning by doing has meant that farmers have practiced and adopted practices that have worked on pineapple in their area. She points to mulching as a key practice for soil moisture conservation, most especially in Nkhotakota, which with its low altitudes along the lakeshore experiences high temperatures.

“What works with this group is that every member has been dedicated to learning all good agriculture practices on pineapple production and working together for success. When they agree on a meeting time or make a decision on an action, they follow through every time,” says Mwase, who is also one of the FAO trained FFS master trainers.

Currently, Chitontho FFS members have pitched a sales stand along the main road passing through Nkhotakota district. However, they are looking beyond vendors and the local community as buyers. With cash now trickling in from the few pineapple sales that have happened, Chitontho FFS members are keen to identify secure and reliable markets by the time the farm is fully established with fruit, which will be in the November/December 2020 period.

“Our goal right now is to find reliable buyers such as juice making companies that can buy the fruit directly from us, buy us at a fair price and make payments on time, and we need to do this fast,” Cosmas Wazanuni, Marketing Officer for the FFS says.

The group is also exploring opportunities for value addition that will ensure more profits for their products. In addition, the FFS has plans to buy additional land thus increasing their production capacity. Currently, Chitontho FFS has started to increase its production through members’ individual farms.

Chitontho FFS with an enrollment of 30 women and 12 men, is being supported by FAO and the Government of Malawi under the European Union funded KULIMA project Revitalizing Agricultural Clusters and Ulimi wa Mndandanda through farmer field schools. The project aims to support strengthening capacity of the extension services on the transformative FFS methodology as one of the alternative approaches in empowering communities to transition them from subsistence agriculture to a more commercially oriented and highly productive agriculture. Under the KULIMA programme, at least 800 Extension workers and 8000 community based facilitators drawn from ten districts of Chitipa, Karonga, Mzimba, Nkhatabay, Nkhotakota, Kasungu, Salima, Chiradzulu, Thyolo and Mulanje are being trained and facilitated to support 402,000 farm families, in collaboration with the an NGO Consortium comprising Self Help Africa (SHA), Action Aid Malawi, Plan International UK and the Evangelical Association.

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KULIMA MAPE at a Glance

The Kutukula Ulimi M’Malawi (KULIMA) Multi-Annual Programme Estimate (MAPE) is a six-year Programme which aims to contribute to fulfilling one of the three objectives of the KULIMA Sustainable Agriculture Programme which is to increase agricultural productivity and diversification in a participatory, sustainable and climate-change resilient manner.

The programe, which is funded by the European Union (EU) through the 11th European Union Development Fund (EDF) seeks to achieve this by providing overall coordination and complementary support for the implementation of relevant interventions by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development (MoAIWD) and other stakeholders like FAO, GiZ and NGO Consortium led by Self Help Africa

The objective of the MAPE responds to the recognition that agriculture and food security is one of the nine stated priority development areas in the national development strategy but it is, however, facing increasing challenges from climate change, low productivity, progressive depletion of natural resources -soil fertility among others, and over-dependence on two crops: maize for food security, and tobacco for exports.

One of the key activities being implemented by the Programme is the revamping of the banana industry through the distribution of clean planting materials and multiplication of suckers through macro-propagation and micro-propagation of bananas. Macro-propagation of bananas is being done by farmers as well as the Ministry of Agriculture through Agriculture Research Stations. On the other hand, micro-propagation of bananas is being implemented in tissue culture laboratories at Agriculture Research Stations and Lilongwe University of Agriculture, and Natural Resources, Bunda campus. Another key activity being implemented under the Programme is propagation of fruit trees at the Agriculture Research Stations.

Macro-propagation of Bananas by Farmers

As of July 2019, the KULIMA Programme Estimate had facilitated the distribution of about 36,000 banana suckers for the establishment of community orchards and nurseries; In addition, 6,453 are expected to be distributed by the period September 2019 – February 2020. All these suckers are being distributed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development through the Department of Crops Development in all the 10 KULIMA implementing districts of Mulanje; Thyolo; Chiradzulu; Salima: Nkhatabay; Nkhotakota; Mzuzu; Chitipa: Karonga and Mzimba.

From these, farmers are then expected to multiply the suckers for further distribution among group members and to other groups formed within the districts as pass on programme. In total, small holder famers have produced 8,595 suckers, 4,174 from humidity chambers and 4,421 from mother blocks. Famers have also started the pass on programme in the districts which benefitted from the first phase of the distribution and these include Karonga, Nkhata Bay, Nkhotakota, Mulanje and Thyolo.

One group of farmers in Nkhotakota, which has managed to pass on 200 suckers to a community orchard nearby, believe the programme has the potential to transform the lives of the farmers as well as restore the glory of the banana production.

Friday Phiri is a member of Chithowe Club – a group comprising of 47 members- after receiving 200 banana suckers in March 2019, the group has now managed to pass on 200 to another community club within the same area.

“As farmers this is good progress for us, we expect 110 farming households to benefit from such arrangements and together we can get back to the way things were before the banana bunchy top virus wreaked havoc,” he said.

Micro-propagation and Macro-Propagation at Agriculture Research Stations

In addition to working with farmers, the programme is also working with Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), Lunyang’wa Agriculture Research Station and Bvumbwe Agriculture Research Station where micro-propagation through tissue culturing is being done.

Despite some challenges, like contamination of some plantlets, which is hindering the process- Bvumbwe research in particular has managed to only initiate 38 tissues against the target of 60,000.

Bvumbwe Deputy Station Manager, Felix Chipojola said the station has also established its own Banana orchard whose major purpose is to not only act as a demonstration plot to farmers, but also preserve banana varieties.

The banana orchard is 2 hectares with an estimation of 2222 suckers but the current target is 3 hectares.

“In the event one Banana orchard is attacked by virus, we are in the process of also establishing two mother orchards will be established at Kasinthula and Makoka Research Station -one hectare each- to mitigate the risk. We are also working to find a solution on contamination of our tissue in the laboratory,” he said.

In addition, the established mother orchard at Bvumbwe will also: be a source of suckers for distribution to farmers; Source of income through the sale of suckers.

Propagation of fruit trees
In terms fruit propagation Bvumbwe Research Station has grafted 3,100 mangoes against a target of 5000; and 8,530 macadamia seedlings have been grafted against on overall target of 10,000 of which 8,120 have been planted. In addition, about 5,800 seedlings of citrus have been planted against an overall target 5,000. Of these, 5,000 have been planted at Bvumbwe Research Station and the rest at Lunyangwa Agriculture Research Station (LARS).

All the activities being implemented by the KULIMA Programme Estimate are aimed at having a positive impact on the targeted beneficiaries most of which are the smallholder families. For example, the implementation of banana activities is aimed at improving the food and nutrition security of households as well as their economic wellbeing. This in line with the Government development objectives for the agriculture sector as outlined in the National Agriculture Policy (2016-20), the National Agriculture Investment Plan (2017/18-2022/23) as well as the third Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III).


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