Smallholder farmers in the flood-prone districts of Phalombe, Mangochi and Nsanje in Malawi are now optimistic to stand on their feet following prospects of good harvest after severe floods washed away their fields last year. Through a six-month “Emergency Input Support to Populations affected by floods in Phalombe, Mangochi and Nsanje districts of the southern region of Malawi” project running up to December 2013, FAO supported 2, 700 farmers - translating into an indirect population of 14, 850 people – who each received 3kg of maize seed, 1kg pigeon peas, 1kg of cow peas, 2kgs of Phaseolus bean, 15kg of fertilizer and 20kg of Urea top dressing fertilizer. The project crucially aimed at improving the quality of life of vulnerable groups through the provision of agricultural inputs and capacity building on the growing of diversified and improved short cycle varieties of crops and utilization of water collection points or residual moisture through small scale irrigation. Through the project, farmers were trained on good agricultural practices for maize and legume production using appropriate post-harvest handling techniques in order to make households affected by floods and dry spells recover from extreme climate condition shocks that predisposed them to food insecurity and abject poverty.
Bright prospects for maize production lighten up farmers’ futures
During a visit to farmers’ fields to assess crop performance in March 2014, the crop stand showed positive results and farmers were ready to adopt the technologies they had learnt during the project. They were confident that the harvest will provide them with enough food and stability despite suffering previous season’s climatic shocks.
“This crop will allow me to produce enough food which makes me feel secure for the first time in months,” said Austin Forte, 26, a lead farmer responsible for training 27 farmers in Nsanje district.
Similar sentiments were echoed in Phalombe where Dorifa Hesten, 38, received the inputs after floods cleared her fields.
“In the past, we were seriously hit by hunger and struggling to buy food but now with this crop in the garden we are happy; it is clear we will have enough food to eat,” said Hesten, a mother of two.
“This is the first time I have seen maize growing like this in my fields. We will have enough food for the year. I think other farmers should be using this technology,” she added.
Agatha Thomas, 27, is all smiles at the prospects of bumper harvest. Her field is a typical example of a young woman eager to learn new farming technologies and poised for greater heights in farming.
“I no longer wake up at night thinking I cannot feed my children. I am now hopeful to harvest enough corn and legumes,” said Thomas, mother of three, whose field was washed away by the floods.
Timely relief, a solid safety net for affected farmers
Osmund Chapotoka, District Agriculture Development Officer for Phalombe, said the project provided timely relief to the designated 900 farmers in the district who became hopeless after floods ravaged their fields. Following the project, 90 percent of the targeted farmers enjoyed good maize crop prospects, in addition to pigeon peas.
FAO national project coordinator Samuel Mingu urged farmers in the three targeted districts to use the technologies learnt from the project in all future farming activities.
A glimpse into the project’s background
In January 2013, the government of Malawi received reports of flooding from the three districts and, in collaboration with the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office, constituted an inter-agency assessment team to conduct a thorough investigation of the situation.
The assessment found that a total of 6,475 households were affected, with some people displaced from their homes. Several livestock were washed away, school calendar was disturbed as people found shelter in schools. Over 7,500 hectares of different types of crops including maize, tobacco, legumes and cotton were either washed away, covered by sand or flooded in water resulting into wilting and eventually drying up the crops.
The situation was exacerbated by prolonged dry spells that hit 16 districts in Malawi, including the targeted three districts, of which some were hit three years in a row resulting into 1.9 million people with missing food entitlement, according to the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC).
The assessment team made recommendations on interventions to strengthen the resilience of the affected households. Some of recommended activities included: support with food items, agricultural inputs for immediate replanting in the affected fields, support to irrigated farming through use of residual moisture or existing small scale irrigation scheme in the affected communities, distribution of cassava and sweet potato vines, vegetables and legumes for a diversified production.