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Reclaiming land to dine like kings – the tale of Mchinji farmers

By Sam Majamanda

People of Tembwe area in Mchinji district have a long lost prestige: Dining like kings after each harvest season.

As opposed to the common conception that eating more is wastage, for the elders of the area this kingly dinning is usually not for fun but a process of rebuilding their bodies in readiness for another farming season because farming has always been their main business.

“Since time immemorial our community has been a home of farmers, and everything that we have today around here can be attributed to agriculture in one way or the other, so we take farming seriously and that is why we are always preparing for it properly in terms of farm inputs but also in the past we used to prepare our bodies by providing them with good diet,” explains Mackson Kalima an elderly farmer of the area.

But as the case is today in the area, this glory is long gone that to most of the younger generation farmers it is nothing more than history. Their land is heavily degraded; the area sparkles of huge gullies across farm fields; and you can barely see vegetation around.

According to Spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture Grecian Lungu, in such a situation farming becomes fruitless because agriculture productivity heavily relies on a lot of input from the environment.

“Nowadays our farming has become very tricky because due to lack of trees rains are so erratic and even when they come they easily destroy our land and create gullies where they are not necessary. This is why we need to step backwards and start all over again: Plant and nurturing more trees to create predictable rains and strengthen our soils, plus employ more techniques to retain moisture,” says Lungu.

In Kasungu, District Commissioner James Kanyangalazi agrees with Lungu, while crying over the glory that was bestowed over the district for many years in history, yet today it only feels like a folk tale.

Kanyangalazi recalls of a time when people built houses and accumulated possessions out of their farms, and yet today the farms are fast becoming white elephants.

“Kasungu used to be the food basket of its own and most parts of the central region, and people made a lot of money here through farming; but today our farming has lost value and people are actually sleeping on empty stomachs a few months after harvesting because they can’t harvest enough anymore,” he says, adding that all this is because of land degradation.

He concurs with Lungu that modern farming needs to be accompanied by land reclamation through climate smart agriculture techniques if it is to yield anything.

He talks of the need to conserve the environment through planting and nurturing trees to bring back the rains, planting agriculture tolerant vegetation in farm fields as well as reclaiming all the land that was washed away by water run offs and make the lands irrigable once more.

Realising the need for a turn around, the dedicated farmers of Tembwe have ganged up to reclaim their land, reverse the environmental upset and set their way clear towards regaining their food glory.

Through a World Bank funded project which is being implemented by district councils and facilitated by the Malawi Government together with the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC), farmers in some parts of the 28 districts of the country were organized into micro-catchments through which they will be implementing Climate Smart Enhanced Public Works to enable them regain their farming capacity.

According to the farmers, the programme which allows them to identify their own problems and sort solutions to them is an opportunity for them to decide the fate of their communities today.

One important exercise involved in preparations for Climate Smart Public Works is the drawing of community maps by farmers; one showing how the community is as of today and another one showing their community as envisioned after implementation of the projects.

“The visionary map is a tool that allows us to visualize what we want our community to look like in years to come. We envisage that when we plant more trees and reclaim gullied land and also practice climate smart agricultural techniques we will start harvesting more and we can be able to sale some of our proceeds in order to acquire advanced needs to suit the modern world,” explains Arnold Zalira, one of the farmers from Kaigwazanga catchment area in the area of T/A Nkanda in Mchinji.

His counterpart, Sofilet Mwase of Chilamphuma Village Traditional Authority Kaluluma in Kasungu district says she is putting a lot of effort into climate smart public works because that’s the best thing she can do for her children.

She says without taking precaution measures on environmental degradation and transforming the farming sector today, the future generation is likely to face more challenges than today, hence the need for everyone to take part in creating a better future for Malawi.

In Balaka district Climate Smart Public Works are scheduled to solve land degradation problems through implementation of 30 land reclamation sub projects across the district, while in Mchinji at least 70 kilometers of land that was lost to gully and riverside erosion is set to be reclaimed.

Ina Thombozi who is Social Protection Officer for the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) thinks the Climate Smart Enhanced Public Works which fall under the Social Support for Resilient Livelihoods Programme (SSRLP) are a way to go if agriculture is to bounce back to being the backbone of the country’s economy.

Thombozi says apart from providing a source of income to beneficiaries during the implementation period, the project will also strengthen citizen participation in development through capacity building.

“Through this project we expect to bring back forests by afforestation and regeneration, and in the end we should have women accessing firewood and water at their door steps; in that way they will be able to engage in other productive activities such as businesses to support their families,” she said.

She concludes by adding that failure to conserve soil and water has a huge bearing on people’s failure to walk of poverty, a thing that continues to cripple the country’s economy.

Malawi is an agro-based economy: The agriculture sector relies so much on the environment for it to thrive: It is therefore imperative that every citizen takes part in replenishing the environment and practicing climate smart agriculture in order for the sector to boom again and be able to resuscitate the nation’s crumbling economy.

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