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Farmers join hands to solve the problems of hunger in Dowa

The members of Dzoole Bean Association in Dowa district have good reason to be smiling proudly as they display their bags of bean seed. After only one year these farmers have managed to work together to produce enough bean seed to fill over 46 bags, weighing 50 Kilograms each, 42 of which have just been sold to Bunda college.

The 30 members of Dzoole had traditionally farmed tobacco as their main cash crop, but when Irish NGO Concern Worldwide, through its partner Malawi Entreprise Zone Association (MALEZA), suggested bean seed could be an easier crop to grow and sell the farmers jumped at the chance. Not only is the new cash crop providing income for the families of the association, the extra bags kept by the association will supplement their diet during the coming months. As the Chairman (Jason Kabuma) of Dzoole explains, “We really felt the shocks of the hunger crisis a few years ago and did not want that to happen to us again. So when we heard we could get help to try something new to stop this happening, we couldn’t say no.”

While these NGO’s provided been seed, the local agriculture extension worker provided technical assistance on how to manage the crop, from sowing to post harvest handling, including how and to whom they should approach to sell the seed to. Along with the bean seed Dzoole have also planted maize and sweet potatoes which they will be harvesting soon. Mr. Kabuma explains, “We wanted to sell most of the bean seed, which will help us to pay for things like school fees for our children, but we also needed to have enough food for ourselves. We have kept some of the beans which will supplement our food stocks for the coming season, that along with the maize and sweet potato will hopefully ensure we won’t go hungry.”

Although this initiative and association is so new, the members felt they managed to work very well together. Once they agreed who would take part in this initiative, rules were drawn up on how to work together. As one member remarked, “after a lot of discussion we drew up rules which everyone must abide by, such as making sure there is no conflict between different farmers, and that we are all doing our fair share of work”. While the farmers have had to work hard this past year to ensure their new crop succeeds, there is no doubt that they will do this next year. “We will definitely continue this, and we know our membership will keep growing and growing”, Said Mr. Kabuma.

The enterprising farmers of Dzoole are not the only community who have decided to improve their food stocks this year. Mwaiwathu Club, comprising of four villages in T/A Chakhaza in Dowa have been working on a self constructed Dam for the past three years. Irrigation for winter cropping is always a problem for farmers in Malawi and when the almost 150 strong club came together they tried to devise ways to improve their irrigation system.

With support from Concern Worldwide and their local agriculture extension worker, Mwaiwathu Club began digging two large dams which fill up during the rainy season. The water then slowly seeps into the neighbouring fields ensuring there is constant irrigation for their winter crops. Although there has been a few dry spells earlier than expected, the club have still managed to sow winter crops of maize, groundnuts, sorghum and sweet potatoes.

But the dams are not the only innovative technique these farmers have learnt. The maize seeds they have sown are a hybrid variety which are easier to tend to, produce more and grow faster. By planting fewer seeds together and planting them in sunken beds, they are now easier to keep irrigated during the winter season.

As the committee explains, “Each family has contributed some money for the seeds and then we all come together to work on a Wednesday and Friday in our communal fields. We having been trying to build these Dams for a number of years, but as soon as we received the help and technical guidance it has worked far better this year. Next year will be even better and we will stick with this new way as we can really see our lives changing”.

These success stories come at a time when across the globe rising food prices have caused riots, hunger and chaos for some of the most vulnerable countries and peoples. Although Malawi hasn’t seen scenes such as these, many consumers across the country have felt the pinch of the rising cost of basic commodities. Coupled with lower prices for the traditional cash crop of tobacco, and it is no wonder that some Malawian farmers are looking for innovative ways to combat and fight hunger which so often plagues their communities.

As Agriculture extension worker, Gloria Ntepa explains, “We want farmers to be able to grow enough food for their families but also receive enough income from what they grow. We talk to farmers about what help they need, often that might be fertiliser but other times it is new techniques and some practical expertise that they need. I work hand in hand with agencies like Concern Worldwide to build up the expertise of these farmers and we are really seeing the positive results.”

This article was written by Louise Finan and appeared in Malawi national newspaper The Nation.