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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Tikondane farmer field school (FFS) members of Mtipasonjo village, group Mbalame, T/A Kadewere in Chiradzulu District, are singing joyful songs after one year of joining farmer field school. The members joined farmer field school in October 2019. The members wanted to address the problem of dryness in their field during winter season and fall army worm damages. During the 2019/2020 season the group did studies focusing on fall armyworm management. In the just ended winter season, the group applied lessons from the study of using neem on fall armyworm. Over the years, most of the members have been experiencing dryness in fields during winter such that, whenever they have irrigated the moisture was not staying for long hours during the day. This caused them to spend much of their time watering the crops for almost each and every day and others twice a day.

The members with the help of community-based facilitator designed two plots one with residue cover and the other with no cover. These plots were in 10m by 20m in size and they planted maize on a spacing of 75cm ridges, 25cm between planting stations and one plant per planting station. This practice of planting one plant per station was not their way of planting maize but they also learnt from the KULIMA BETTER project. The group meet once every week to collect data on the studies using agro-ecosystem analysis (AESA) tool that also helps them to make good decisions.

“We always come early in the morning once every week to collect field data. Basically, we will measure how the crop is growing and monitor pest and diseases.

The FFS have now completed the study and according to the data they were collecting they can see that the covering field can conserve moisture as they have seen witnessed themselves. After gaining the knowledge the school invited non-members from the surrounding villages to share with them what they have learnt but the only thing that limited the numbers was corvid 19 which made the school to only invite few people from each village.  “Am very happy for what my people are learning from this project and I am pleading with ActionAid to spread the FFS in the whole area, myself I love to join in one of these schools” said GVH Mbalame

The FFS has now harvested the field, from the covered plot they got 149kg and 119kg on un mulched plot. The FFS have agreed that each member should have covered field to practice what they have learnt and see if this is indeed working on conserving the moisture.

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The low  fertility exacerbated  by soil degradation has affected many farmers in Malawi. Farmers work hard by doing all they can to have a   bumper yield but end up being frustrated. The family of Mr. and Mrs. Namanya of Traditional Authority Ntchema, Group Village Headman Masauli in Chiradzulu District were also among many farmers who never made ends meet due to low production. “For the past many years, I and my wife had been harvesting less than 5 fifty kilogram bags of maize from our half acres piece of land despite applying the required efforts” explained a frustrated 26 year old Namanya.

When KULIMA BETTER was introduced in Chiradzulu district, Namanya  joined Tiyese FFS in 2018. During that year’s growing season, Tiyese  FFS did a study  to compare maize variety performance by comparing Mapasa (DK8033), Mkango (SC627) and Kanyani (SC 403) maize varieties. During their studies, they found out that Mkango maize variety when planted one per planting station performed better than the others e three.

Namanyas  realised that they were not producing much due to poor farming practices of planting 4 seeds per planting station which according to him, increased food competition among plants as he learnt from Tiyese FFS studies. “In the past years, I was planting 4 and at some planting stations 5 which I was thinking it would increase harvest from my half acres land. Little did I know that I was shooting myself on the foot” groaned Namanya, a father of 4.

Namanya made a decision to plant one plant per planting station at the spacing of 25cm between plants and 75cm between ridges. They both agreed to practice the technology on a quarter acres of their half acres land. Namanya and his wife replicated the procedure he learnt from Tiyese FFS during 2018/2019 growing season.

“This year, using the same piece of land and farm inputs we had been using, we are expected harvest not less than twelve 50 kilogram bags of maize comparing to 5 harvested in previous year. On a quarter acres land, we planted one plant per planting station, we expect to harvest twice  as much than on another quarter where we planted 4 per station. This has been possible because there was reduced competition of food among plants on the side we planted one plant per station” added smilingly the joyful Namanya.

“This year we are planning to cover the whole piece of land with the new planting technology so that we harvest more and part of it will be sold for us to roof our house with iron sheets” revealed a 25 year old optimistic mother of 4 .


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For a long time, winter production had been a challenge for Edward Tchuwa, a farmer and Community Based Facilitator for Tigwirizane Farmer Field School in Mwitha section under Mjinge EPA in Mzimba district. This is despite the availability of vast land with adequate residue moisture which can sustain production of crops. “Since I started winter production, I never regarded it to be my source of food and income due to very low yields I had been experiencing in the past,” recalls Edward. He has recently realized that the poor yields were because of the poor production practices where he believed that the wetlands have adequate soil fertility from the grass residues that are buried during land preparation hence no need for additional fertilization.

During the 2019 winter season, the group conducted a study on soil fertility management where it compared impact of different methods of manure application on vegetable production. The first treatment involved applying compost manure on the planting station against applying manure on the whole bed. “The results showed that application of compost manure on the planting station provided good nutrition to the crop hence a healthy crop and better yield,’ he says. Tchuwa and group decided to adapt this method to maize production and the results were encouraging. He says the members have also learnt that compost manure if well prepared gives the crop adequate nutrients hence reduce cost of production. With their sandy soils, the farmers also noted that compost manure improved water holding capacity which is important for crop production.

Following the study results, Tchuwa and 9 other farmers have adopted the practice for their household production. For 2020 winter season, he has planted vegetables, maize and tomato. From the vegetable production, he has already managed to realize MWK 35,000.00 which he has set aside to buy fertilizer for the summer growing season. His maize crop looks very healthy and is expected to mature in the coming month. “I will sell green cobs and expecting to realize over MWK100,000.00,” he confides about his plans. The tomato is still very far but I also know that they will do better with this method. Tchuwa is not resting. He has added 3 more plots of maize expected to mature at different times.

Looking forward he visions a better future for his household. “With what I have already experienced so far, I am geared to produce more,” concluding that “I am confident that my household will never experience food insecurity anymore because I have discovered a big secret to crop production.”. He also continues to reach out to other farmers who have been amazed by what he has achieved and shares with them his secret.

Plan International is implementing the Kulima BETTER project in collaboration with Self Help Africa with financial support from the European Union. The project aims at increasing resilience, food, nutrition and income security among the smallholder farmers.

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By Pauline Mbukwa

Old habits die hard the saying goes but as for Evelesi Mwale,42 from Kamkwinya village T/A Kaomba in Kasungu she has said bye to her traditional way of planting three seeds per planting station to one maize seed per planting station.

“I first learnt about one-to-one maize planting system also known as Sasakawa through Tayamba Farmer field school. I joined the school in 2019 where I also learnt how to make Mbeya manure which helps in improving soil fertility.”

In the last farming season of 2019/2020 Mwale harvested 27 bags on a 0.4 hectares land, and this season she is expecting to harvest double of what she harvested last season.

“Mbeya manure has really worked wonders on my field. As you can see the leaves are very green and health and I have been inspecting for pest and diseases but only a few crops are infested with Fall armyworm.

Mwale applies the sand to the maize funnel to kill the fall armyworms, she says this method does not cost her anything and is effective in killing the pest.

“When I harvest my maize, I will save some for food and will sell some bags so that I can pay school fees for my children. I will not stop making Mbeya manure even after the project ends because I have seen the benefits,” says Mwale.

The Agriculture Extension Development Officer for the area, Boswell Lumwira says Mwale is a role model in her village.

“She is one of the dedicated and committed members of at Tayamba FFS. People are to learning about the benefits of Mbeya manure through her field,’’ concludes Lumwira.

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By Veneless Chimpesa, Self Help Africa

Mathias Msukwa hails from Mwene-Kaseye village in T/A Mwabulambya, Chitipa District. He is 47 years old, has a wife and has four children: three boys and a girl.

Mathias calls himself happily married because he believes he has achieved more because of the support he receives from his wife and children.

His dream of having a good house with electricity and send his children to good secondary schools started long time ago. In 2018 when KULIMA BETTER project came to his area, he was amongst few individuals who were selected as Community Based Facilitators. As a CBF he went through the capacity building processes and formed Ipyana Farmer Field School (FFS) which started with 30 members. Twelve members, however dropped out along the way and currently the group has 18 (5 male & 13 female) members remaining.

Ipyana FFS participated in several trainings and one of them was on ‘Vision journey’’. After attending the training Mathias discussed with his family (wife and children) and jointly developed their own family vision and one of the issues that they included in the plan was lack of connectivity to ESCOM electricity power.

“Thanks to KULIMA BETTER, we followed our vision and decided to make use of winter season to generate money. In 2019 we planted onions, maize, green pepper and sweet potato and after selling we realised about K350,000 Malawi Kwacha. We are finally sleeping in an electrified house,” he said smiling.

Mathias said that as per their plan as a family they are remaining with Oxcart which is in the process and come 2021 it will be achieved.

This year I have gone into raising sweet potato nurseries. In 2018/2019 season Mathias benefited from sweet potato vines which the project distributed through CIP and this year 2020 he is multiplying the vines as part of income generation on a 0.1ha which is estimated to give him about 280,000 Malawi Kwacha.

“There is money in farming, it just takes your determination and hard work, God has blessed us with enough land and for sure 2021 will be another different year for my family,” says Mathias.

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By Pauline Mbukwa, Self Help Africa

Pasani Hill is found in T/A Mkanda; Group Village Headman Mkawera in Mulanje. The hill is surrounded by five villages which are Mkawera, Muliya, Mkwera, Harrineck and Nkhunguza.  The natural beauty that the hill had has all faded with the careless cutting of trees by people in the community.

When smallholder farmers were asked on what KULIMA BETTER Project could do to address shortage of trees for different use and massive gully erosion at Pasani Hill and in fields found in these villages, they all agreed that the project should help them in the reforestation of Pasani Hill.

The chairperson of Pasani Cluster Catchment Committee, Bornwell Ntumwinda recalls how their hearts were sweetened with gladness when KULIMA BETTER Project agreed to help them in the restoration of the lost glory of trees which Pasani was known for a decade ago.

To ensure that there is cooperation, committees of 12 members were formed in each of the five villages. These committees together with village headmen formed Pasani Catchment Cluster Committee that has 67 members.

The cluster committee has since planted 20,000 trees Mulanje. While most of the trees for example Acacia Galpinii and Acacia Polyacantha are to hold the soil against heavy runoffs caused by rains, other trees have been planted to improve levels of soil nutrients in the hill. Farmers are encouraged to plant Tephrosia vogeli in their fields to improve soil fertility which is achieved by applying tree leaves .

“About 40 thousand trees are expected to be planted in this hill. We are still nurturing our planted trees. KULIMA BETTER Project gave us working tools which we use in the caring of the planted trees.” said Ntumwinda.

Village headman Muliya is leading in conducting meeting together with Pasani Catchment Cluster Committee, encouraging people to be committed in the reforestation of the hill. Village headman Muliya with other chiefs has after consulting Mulanje District Council formed by-laws as one way of sustaining the newly budding forest of Pasani Hill.

“We once arrested a fellow committee member who was cutting down trees in the hill and in our graveyard. He was later requested to pay a fine of which he failed. This forced the Village Security Forum which work hand in hand with Pasani Cluster Catchment Committee, to take his bicycle temporarily untill he pays the fine.” said Village Headman Muliya.

All these measures are being done to protect the hill so that the future generation will benefit from the fruits.

The committee is planning to start bee keeping as one way of protecting the hill from deforestation caused by illegal cutting down of trees in the hill. This will also generate income for the committee thereby empowering its members’ income.

Small check dams using soil-filled sack bags were used last year to reclaim gully erosions which massively eroded soil both at Pasani Hill and nearby fields. A total of 2000 soil-filled sack bags were used in this activity.  Rebecca Benjamin can indeed testify how this gully reclamation technic has reduced soil erosion and maintain silt in her maize garden which is close to Pasani Hill.

“At first I thought the technique of using soil-filled sack bags to reclaim soil was useless but now l have seen the benefits. I will be using it every year” said Rebecca Benjamin.

These are just a few of the fruits from an initiative that is less than a year old. Fast forward to 2021 there is hope that the trees planted will benefit the community and in the near future it will indeed offer shade to a young men and  women with friends studying in the hill, in the next generation as Henderson said in his day.

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By Blessings Nyirenda, Plan International Malawi

A quality product speaks volumes for itself. This is especially true with fresh vegetable business where every customer is looking for a bigger and fresh product. Michael Msuku has mastered the art of producing high quality vegetables since he joined Temwanani Farmer Field School in 2019. Msuku comes from Matchonisa Msuku, GVH Lazaro Phiri, TA Chindi.

“Farming was not profitable for me. I used to do farming the usual way. I used to have a lot of losses due to poor seed, seed not adapting to our environment and other negative attributes of the variety.  Usually I would plant a crop while not so sure that it is going to give me higher yields or not.

Msuku says when he joined the farmer field school, he learnt how to validate the crop. Much as it may seem time consuming to try a crop and see the results but the loss of resources when you grow on a large piece of land with uncertainty a good yield is reduced. The validation process helps the farmer to grow the crop with utmost certainty that it is going to give a higher yield since you already know how the crop is going to perform. Therefore, one has enough confidence to produce at a larger piece of land.

He cited the validation studies he conducted on variety comparison on Copenhagen and Star cabbage variety where he discovered that Star gives a big head compared to Copenhagen. He also conducted a study on the performance of Red creole planted at different planting spacing to ascertain the population as well as yield. He says as a farmer and a busines person, it is important to have a good product that can be competitive at the market. But above all is the need to know the different practices we can use to come up with such a product and FFS provides us such an opportunity.

I have realized good sales this year. I have realized K320,000.00 this year up from K190,000.00 on the same piece of land. I have used the proceeds to build a house and I have already started to buy iron sheets. From the research he did, he shared the results with 12 farmers who are also using the practices he discovered.

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