Sunday, February 2, 2014

Farming God's Way

A five-lettered word- hunger- has been the subject of eternal questions for Village Headwoman Binali of Traditional Authority Malemia in Zomba.

At every mention of the word hunger, she says, two questions always popped up in her mind.

“Is hunger a myth? Is it part of history and, therefore, history?” queries Binali, who is here, at Naming’azi Farm Training Centre. She is one of the people participating in the Agriculture Field Day organised by Blantyre C.C.A.P Synod Health and Development Commission (BSHDC) this August day.

Binali doesn’t ask these questions from a vacuum. She says, traditionally, agricultural activities have tended to take the form of an economy of unpredictability, as manifested in so many contrasting outcomes when it comes to harvesting.

She says, for instance, that farming in Malawi has come to mean an array of losses in one year followed by gains in the next; possession of surplus crops and livestock in one year, and dispossession of the same due to weather patterns in another, and; more harvests in one year followed by poor productivity in yet another year.

It is like myth (that hunger is part of life) and history clashing as, since time immemorial, there have been years of plenty and years of scanty, agriculture-wise.

“The question,” Binali says, “is: Should we say that, because we have always had years of plenty harvest and years of scanty harvest, then, it is established and settled that there is nothing people can do to avert hunger? I don’t think so. I think it is a myth to believe that we will always have hunger around, even though hunger is recorded even in our oral history.”

Not that Binali has always reasoned like this. Her new thinking is a product of BSHDC’s project dubbed ‘Sakata Community Development Programme’, an initiative aimed at building farmers resilience to climate change.

Binali says she developed interest in the programme after being trained along with nine other chiefs.

“We were trained by Mzungu (white man) and given 10 kg of groundnuts, goats, aKalulu, guinea fouls, and goats. But thieves stole some of the things,” she says.

But, while the thieves went away with livestock and farm produce, the knowledge has remained with Binali and her subjects. After all, Chrispo Ndiwo Banda, agriculture officer for Sakata Community Development Programme, will testify that some of the innovations being promoted under the programme- which include ulimi wa mtayakhasu (conservation agriculture)- require participating farmers to remain in good books with their neighbours.

Standing on part of the 150 acres of land that belongs to the Synod at Naming’azi Farm Training Centre, Banda tells visitors that. “Here, where you are standing, is our Ulimi wa Mtayakhasu demonstration plot. As you can see, there are no ridges in the garden. The distance between one planting station to another is 60 centimetres (cm), while the distance between what was supposed to be a ridge to another is 75cm. Farmers are advised to plant between two and three seeds, according to conditions.

“However, it must be said that, for it to be successful, there is need for farmers to be in good books with their neighbours. Otherwise, some people may try to frustrate the farmer. For example, in December last year, one farmer’s produce was destroyed after someone set fire on the field.”

“The other challenge remains termites’ attacks,” Banda says, adding, however, that conservation agriculture, which he calls “farming God’s way” is the best way to go for farmers.

Some of those listening to his ‘lecture’ are officials from Churches Action in Relief and Development, Act Alliance, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Evangelical Development Service (Germany), Christian Aid, Christian Health Association of Malawi, Malawi Council of Churches, among others.

Apart from Naming’azi Farm Training Centre, the programme’s wings have also spread to Kanyenda Village, Sub-T/A Mkagula, located less than 10 Km from the training centre.

In this village, Gloria Ng’omba, Asiatu Jackson, Christina Affiah, Monesta Chitulo and Berita Jamu have become the face of ‘Sakata Community Development Programme’ after being chosen by the Village Implementation Committee to become the first recipients of a dairy cow.

The all-women grouping underwent training on January 31 this year, which was followed by receipt of the cow on February 15.

“Taona (name of their two-and-a-half-years cow) is producing high quality milk. This breed produces 20 litres of milk a day- 10 in the morning and 10 in the afternoon. Through the daily milk bank we have close by, we hope for the best,” Jackson says.

The cow, says Ndiwo, is part of a revolving programme and, so far, things look promising for the five women. Taona delivered a bouncing calf weighing 70 Kg on September 1. But this does not come cheap: the women have to do is provide medication to prevent infections, and a good monger.

There is also a fish and poultry farming component attached to the programme. The 15-weeks-old 200 layer chickens and Makumba and Chiringuni fish bear testimony to the diversification taking place at this place.

BSHDC Board Chairperson, Stain Singo, is impressed with the way farmers are adapting to climate change by diversifying.

“In the past, farmers would depend on one crop only, and this rendered them vulnerable to climate-change shocks. By engaging in goats, chickens rearing, bee keeping, crop cultivation, farmers will have options in case one of these,” Singo says.

Singo says the programme in Zomba shows just how instrumental church organs can be in national development.

His sentiments are shared by BSHDC Director, Lonnie Ncozana, who says the development arm has improved people’s lives in terms of food security, economic development, and healthcare delivery.

“Our work started with primary care. We carried a needs assessment survey in 20 villages. The good thing is that beneficiaries are identified by community members themselves,” Ncozana says.

Ncozana says she is happy that Blantyre Synod has managed to create a food security triangle in the former capital city. This triangle has been created because, after undergoing training at Naming’azi, farmers go back to their communities to practice what they have learned. In the end, some of the farmers go to Domasi Fortification Centre where nutrients are added to their produce, thereby creating a triangle-like shape.

It is this triangle that has enabled Talandira Village Savings and Loan Association chairperson, Esme Lifa, to purchase a “brand new bicycle at K20, 000 last year”, one of the group’s 19 women members to have developed a thick skin against resource-poverty.

“But we don’t allow men in our group; they may end up reaping us off and running away,” Esme says.

So, it is not only against climate change that women are scheming against; they are against men’s cheating, too.

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