By Pauline Mbukwa, Self Help Africa

The beautiful and jovial women are clad in white tops and wearing same cloth wrapper locally called ‘Chitenje’ sit in a circle not gossiping but discussing how they can better their lives. This is not a choir, but this is Tipindule farmer field school which has a common goal to end hunger and poverty.

Women in rural areas of Malawi struggle to have access to finance yet make up 70% of the Agriculture force. The formal lending institutions normally require a collateral for one to access loans.  To address this problem, smallholder farmers are now turning to Village Saving and Loans commonly known as ‘Banki Khonde’

Tipindule Farmer Field School situated in Chikuli section, Thuchila EPA in Mulanje is one of the successful groups that has embraced the VS&L and changing lives of farming families. For Callista Mthiramanja from Awali Village in Mulanje, life was difficult as even her friends would not borrow her money. Especially when the crop did not do well, she needed to buy food to sustain her through the year. The money she got from her produce was not enough to last even a week.

She joined Tipindule FFS an exclusive women’s group in 2019.The group started with K454,900.00 and has grown its savings to K1,340,600.00.

Mthiramanja got a loan and managed to buy 6 bags of cement, and fertiliser in readiness for the farming season. She hopes to build her house as this is part of her vision.

Chairperson of the group, Margaret Paipi goat a loan of K30,000 and with this she is moulding bricks which she plans to sell and make a fortune of over K1,000,000.00.

“We thank EU and KULIMA BETTER for training us in the new farming technologies and for empowering us with knowledge on village saving and loans, my life will not be the same,” Paipi said

“Tipindule FFS is one of the groups that is doing very well not only in VS&L but even in terms of adoption of farming technologies such as one to one planting, making of Mbeya manure and conservation agriculture, “ Charles Evans Tembo the Master Trainer says.

The VSL approach has improved access to finance for most of the project beneficiaries. A total of 2,562 VSLs are established with a total membership of 40,455 (10,338 males and 30,117 females).

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By Charity Chimphamba, Self Help Africa

Soil and water are the essential for the crops to grow health and produce more yield. Soil nutrient deficiencies are a major factor limiting productivity on smallholder farms in Malawi as soils are widely infertile and farmers have limited access to amendments such as inorganic fertilizers and manure. Agroforestry is one of the important technologies that helps to increase soil nutrients and soil water holding capacity.

Tukomalireghe and Wiyule farmers in Karonga were trained on agroforestry and forest management through Better Extension Training Transformation Economic Returns (BETTER) project in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Tukomalireghe and Wiyule are two of the FFS groups that benefited from agroforestry trainings. A total of 49 farmers benefited of which 16 are men and 33 are women. Both groups are in Kwiyula Village in Karonga district.  The two FFS groups managed to raise 4500 seedlings of trees which were shared among 49 members and transplanted in their individual farms. Glicidia Sepium, Senna Siamea, are some of the agroforestry species that were planted. Farmers also planted fruit trees such as Annona senegalensis and pawpaw to promote integrated homestead farming.

Davie Zimba is one of the members of Tukomalireghe FFS and he is also the lead farmers responsible for training members. Being a member, Davie also benefited from the trees programme. “These trees will help to improve soil fertility, soil water holding capacity and prevent soil erosion in our farms,” Davie said. Agroforestry practices increases crop yield due to an increase in soil nutrients and soil water holding which are important factors that supports plant to grow health and produce more yields.  “Fruit trees will also create a better source of vitamins for our families in future and a source of income after selling surplus fruits,” Davie added.

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By Chinsinsi Dakalira- Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM)

Mango Farmer Field School from Mawala village, Group Village Headman Phaka of Traditional Authority Ndindi in Salima district is one of the FFSs that has amazed a lot of people in the area. The FFS is led by Benard Mkwanda, the Community Based Facilitator (CBF) with a membership of 21 farmers (17 women, 4 men).  They started their studies in the year 2018 and they have gained a lot since then.

In 2018, they assessed planting methods in groundnuts. On a 0.1ha, they divided the plot into half: 0.05ha they planted CG7 using double row method and on another 0.05ha they used single row method. From their observations, they noted that double-row method is the best because the groundnuts was not exposed to sunlight, helps in keeping/maintaining moisture and less exposed to diseases than in a single-row method. On a 0.05ha with double-row method they managed to harvest 7bags of 50kgs (unshelled) and on single-row they harvested 4bags and half of 50kgs (unshelled). Apart from the groundnuts, the school planted maize-PAN 53 on a 0.1ha and harvested 300kgs, and they also planted soya-Tikolore on 0.03ha and harvested 22 kgs which they shared among members.

After selling the 300kgs of maize and 11 bags of groundnuts, the FFSs obtained MK128,000 which they used to buy 7 goats at MK13,000 each and used the balance to buy additional fertilizer for the next growing season. Now 7 members from Mango FFS have benefited from this initiative and they are planning to do pass-on program until all the members have the goats.

In 2019/2020 growing season, the school assessed planting method in maize. On a 0.03ha they planted SC403 using one-one method and on a another 0.03ha they planted the same maize variety using three-three method. On one-one planting they harvested 155Kgs and on three-three planting method they harvested 125 kgs. Apart from the study, they also planted ZM 523 on 0.04ha and harvested 150kgs and planted cow-peas-Mkhalatsonga variety on a 0.1ha where they harvested 70kgs as commercial crops.

“Apart from the studies, we also engage ourselves in piece work and village savings and loans for us to be financial independent as a group and individuals as well. From piece work, we have managed to save MK250,000 which has enabled us to buy 38 bags (1,900 kgs) of maize which we intend to sell when maize prices pick up. we really thank EU- funded KULIMA BETTER project through Evangelical Association of Malawi for this project because it came as an eye-opener to us. Through the FFS we have learnt to be independent and to have a vision as a group, said Benard Mkwanda.”

“We are planning to sell the maize at MK10,000 per 50kg bag and cow-peas at MK250.00 per kilogram. Our vision is to make sure that by the end of year 2021 all members from Mango FFS should have received one goat from FFS. We also want to buy 21 bags of fertilizer and share among members during 2020/2021growing season and construct a Khola for FFS where we can do goat farming as a group by 2022,” concludes Staudi Mimu, the chairperson.”

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“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” goes the new motto of Mr Smart Kaliati, a 72 year old farmer, and a father of 5 children who hails from Sitolo Village in the area of Traditional Authority Chikumbu in Mulanje district. Kaliati is a Community Based Facilitator (CBF) of Takondwera Farmer Field School (FFS) that was established by ADRA in 2019 in Thabwa Section of Boma EPA with 30 members (3 males and 27 females)

In the quest to attain a better nutrition for farmers to a better life, ADRA Malawi through KULIMA BETTER project facilitated the establishment of standard backyard gardens as a way of promoting small scale vegetable production at household level. After noticing the goodness of having one at household level, Kaliati is one of the farmers that adopted the innovation in June 2020 having learnt from their master trainer to improve the household’s nutrition. His garden was intercropped with different plants namely: tomato, cabbage, green pepper, beetroot, rape, mustard, okra, Amarathas, onion, Chinese, carrot chidede and green beans.

Through him, 20 members of his FFS have followed suit. The garden is made of raised beds that are basically 3m long and 1.2m wide. The beds are made of bricks that are three layered upwards and are therefore filled with soil and manure from chicken dung. The beds are 80cm apart and these spaces allow easier access to plants and prevent soil from becoming compacted by being walked on.

Through these gardens, farmers are benefiting a lot in terms of availability and easy access of vegetables at household level. “We used to a walk a 5 kilometers distance to get to our nearest market just to but vegetables and tomato, but with this garden we can ably get any vegetable of our choice any time thereby saving money” said Kaliati. He further stated that “in the absence of vegetables from the nearby market, we used to travel to Chinakanaka which is 15 kilometers away from our village and costed us MK500.00 for transport, therefore the gardens are helping in saving money”.

These stories show that change in behaviour can be inspired even by just one positive experience or an example that farmers can witness for themselves from the farmer field schools. “Through stories told by farmers and practical skills of backyard gardens obtained within the learning points, the impacts of farmer field schools on having a vegetable gardens at household level are clearly shown in the communities”. Yamikani Gama, a Master Trainer for the section.

The standard backyard gardens can be used for five consecutive years .  “It is my wish to continue having vegetables in my garden for home consumption and a plan to have more consumers from my village to buy my vegetables. I hope to sell them to other nearby provinces as well”. Mr Smart Kaliati concluded.

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By Ruster Mkandawanji-Evangelical Association of Malawi

Moreen Mabasa,35, is a proud mother of three children (two girls and one boy). She comes from Malata 1 village, Group Village Headman Chifundo 2 of Traditional Authority Mwanza in Salima district. She is one the shining examples of farmers who are practising Conservation Agriculture as a mitigation measure to Climate Change related shocks in the district.

The knowledge I gained as a member of Tithandizane Farmer Field School made me to start farming as a business. One of the requirements of the Farmer Field School methodology is that members should practice what they learn at their study plot in their fields, so I thought I should lead by example,” said Moreen Mabasa

“In 2018/2019 season I planted SC 403 maize variety on 1.2 ha without mulching and the yield was 3750 kgs. After a training in Conservation Agriculture in 2019/2020 season I decided to grow the same maize variety on the same piece of land but sparingly covered the who area and my yield jumped to 6000 kgs.

Mabasa has been motivated to increase the soil surface cover of her field so that she gets the maximum benefits from Conservation Agriculture such as moisture retention, suppression of weed growth, soil fertility improvement and sustainable stable yield levels.

“I intend to sell my maize during the rainy season in December 2020 at K10,000.00 per 50 kg bag, this translates to MK1,200,000.00. The estimated total cost of production was K480,000.00 giving a profit margin of K720,000.00. With the proceeds from the crop I intend to build a brick and iron thatched house and to buy and beef cattle,” Mabasa said smiling.

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Lovemore Luscious dropped out of school due to financial challenges. But this did not stop him from pursuing his dream to become a successful youth farmer in his village. Today the 18-year-old is one of the members of Petani farmer field school in Masambanjati EPA, T/A Khwethemule in Thyolo.

Luscious grows maize, cabbage on his 0.2 hectare of land. Before joining FFS, their household used to struggle to have access to food, but today he can provide relish for his grandmother and his four siblings.

“I used to be dependent on my mother for everything and my mother could not manage to provide everything so decided to join the FFS because I saw what was happening at the study plots last year and I even saw the improvements on some gardens. The most valuable knowledge and skill I have gained at the FFS is how to make Mbeya manure, this season I have already made Mbeya manure to my maize garden,” said Luscious.

Luscious dreams of buying a treadle pump in future and plans to buy more land so that he can grow more and support his family.

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