Despite an onslaught of harsh drought and flooding, Alice Kachere from Lilongwe harvested 50 bags of maize last year. Her secret? Diversifying her crop and carefully managing the fertility of her soils.
In 2016, the number of hungry people in Malawi surged from 2.8 million to 6.7 million people, as a consequence of the El Niño-induced drought. Climate extremes, as well as pests, diseases and a lack of adequate information and infrastructure are stopping Malawian farmers from reaching their true potential to feed their country.
Ending hunger in a country such as ours, where 46 percent of children are estimated to be stunted, must begin with farmers like Alice Kachere. By equipping people like her with the tools they need to adapt to a changing climate, we can not only achieve food security, but make progress on many other Sustainable Development Goals as well.
Restoring land quality, the focus of SDG15, has been a major focus of farmer training in Malawi. It is estimated that up to 65 percent of land in sub-Saharan Africa is degraded. It is therefore not a surprise that farmers struggle to produce healthy and abundant crops. Farmers are the stewards of this land, and with the right training and equipment, can restore it to health.
During my time as Chief Executive Officer of NASFAM, we advocated for the use of conservation agriculture. This involved minimal soil disturbance, to maintain water and nutrients in the soil, as well as application of biomass and the planting of fertilizer trees. For Alice, this meant keeping the stalks and leaves of her maize and soy crops on the field after harvesting, to stop her soils becoming waterlogged.
We also encouraged farmers to diversify their crop production and income sources as a way of building reliance to climate change (SDG13). Diversification reduces the risk of failure and that give farmers high chance of getting a notable harvest from their farming systems. Soya production is one of the key crops that most farmers have diversified into. The crop not only provides incomes to smallholder farmers but it also improves the nutrition of their families, positively impacting their health, the focus on SDG3. Furthermore, it fixes its own nitrogen to the soil, meaning it also nourishes the land.
For Ligina Luka, a female smallholder farmer from Mchinji District, Malawi, access to high quality soy bean seed via a NASFAM seedbank initiative changed her family’s life. Before, she and her husband, along with their four children felt trapped in a poverty cycle. No amount of hard work on their farm seemed to pay off.
She started by planting 12 kilograms of seed in 2013, the maximum one could get from the program. To her surprise, she harvested 350 kilograms of soy bean. She was able to pay back 30 kilograms to the seed bank and keep 120 Kilograms as seed for the following season.
She decided to rent some more land for the following season, and grow her soy bean business. By 2014, she was making more than MK300,000 per season from soy bean, and was no longer producing for food security in the home. She had to find other investment options for diversifying income sources. ‘‘I bought a motorcycle for my business, plus some pigs, goats and chickens which upon multiplying can be sold and bring additional income”, says Ligina.
Providing for her family is no longer a problem these days. Now they can afford to eat what they love. With food on the table, now her focus is on generating sufficient resources to invest in her children’s education – the focus of SDG4. Ligina is determined to educate her children. One is about to enter secondary education, and Ligina is confident and planning to send her to a private secondary school with proceeds from the farming business.
With a “climate-smart” approach to farming, Ligina has now become a model in her area as the community has seen her become self-sufficient and even employing others within a period of four years.
Stories of farmers like Alice and Ligina also show that empowering female farmers will also go a long way to achieving SDG5 on gender equality.
Farmers can lead the way to achieving not only SDG2, but many other of the Sustainable Development Goals as well. Agriculture can be considered the common thread that binds many of these interconnected goals together. To empower them to succeed, we must ensure that we help farmers change their mind-set from being subsistence to farming as a business. They need to be supported to mobilise themselves into collective action groups where it is easier to reach them with extension and rural advisory services. Then, just like Alice and Ligina, they can truly thrive and lift up entire communities with their success.
Dyborn Chibonga is Former President of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), a Farming First supporter. Visit Farming First’s Sustainable Development Goal portal to explore quizzes, videos, infographics and more that tell the story of agriculture’s pivotal role in achieving the SDGs.
Explore quizzes, videos, infographics and more that tell the story of agriculture’s pivotal role in achieving the SDGs.Farming First
Agriculture is the common thread linking all #SDGs - this @farmingfirst video explains why! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krubffiCYoYAgriculture is the common thread linking all #SDGs - this @farmingfirst video e…