As climate change continues to wreak havoc in many areas, especially in drought-prone areas, farmers under the Chiyanjano group at Group Village head Imbwa’s area tell an outright different story.
The farming group, comprising of 30 members of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kunthembwe, Blantyre are making a ‘killing’ out of solar-powered irrigation system.
The majority being women, the farmers got an upshot of K23 million in their agri-business operations in 2022 courtesy of Malawi Watershed Improvement Services project (MWASIP) for providing matching grants
Magret Elia, Chairperson of Chiyanjano farmers group says they invested the grant in irrigation farming specifically for commercial gains.
The 39 year old Elia recalls that prior to the development, the group that was established in 2019 for Village Savings and Loans, used to contribute their proceeds to practice rain-fed agriculture with much focus on cultivating maize for food and sale.
She, however, says in many instances, the crop yield realised from the two hectares was less than 10 bags of 50 kilogrammes due to erratic rains and land degradation.
In 2020, she says, things turned around when MWASIP was introduced in the area with the aim of increasing the adoption of sustainable landscape management practices and improving watershed in targeted catchments along the Shire River.
Chiyanjano group was privileged to participate in the project activities mainly working in Nkaladzi area, under the Kapichira catchment, the jurisdiction of the project in Blantyre district.
Among others, members of the group were implored to engage in sustainable land and water management activities like tree planting, gully reclamation, river bank conservation, manure making, natural tree regeneration and contour ridging.
“We did not hesitate to participate in the project activities to restore forests considering that a lot of trees were depleted due to charcoal burning businesses and the impact has resulted in erratic rainfall coupled with land degradation leading to low crop productivity year in and out,” she says.
She therefore adds: “We divided ourselves into three teams to work in subprojects and each team worked once a week in the assigned catchment area as guided by Village Level Action Plan (VLAP).”
The group’s enthusiasm towards sustainable landscape management activities saw MWASIP later on providing them with matching grants to boost the group’s crop production.
According to 35 year old Malita Sedeka, treasurer of Chiyanjano, in 2022 the group was requested to submit a business proposals of what they intended to venture into.
“We challenged ourselves to venture into irrigation farming to grow maize hugely for commercial purposes. As a starting point, we secured an additional one hectare for cultivation and in December last year, we got the grant amounting to K23.1 million.
“Using the money, we bought and installed a solar-powered irrigation system that taps water from the nearby Nkaladzi River to the tank connected to pipes to irrigate the crop field. Additionally, we bought hybrid maize seed and fruit trees,” she says.
Being their first harvest under mechanisation, the farmers are optimistic to realize a bumper yield than before as the crop they are expecting is almost at its maturity stage.
According to Sedeka, the group plans to sell the fresh maize and realise close to K5 million by the end of this month (November).
“We have this confidence because MWASIP already provided market linkages (access) to our harvest and we anticipate that by the end of the three growing seasons, we might realise almost K15 million from this enterprise.
“Our plan is to use the money to diversify our production and also buy a lorry to help us in the transportation of crop produce. Besides, we want to support each other to boost our small-scale businesses,” she says.
Chiyanjano’s exploit is just an example of economic gains that the other seven farmers’ groups working in the MWASIP catchment area in Blantyre are realising from different enterprises they ventured into after receiving a boost to their businesses.
Tadala group in Namuputa Village in T/A Kunthembwe is also one of the beneficiaries of the MWASIP matching grants.
Chair of the group Elias Lumbwe says their group which has a membership of 13, received K16, million to invest in piggery.
“We bought 36 pigs and we used the balance to provide the necessary care in terms of housing and feeding to the pigs. We are hoping to realise much-needed returns soon, which we can use to support our households with food and income,” he says.
Apart from crop and livestock production, other farmers’ groups invested their grants in groundnut seed multiplication.
One such group is Umodzi in the Nkaladzi catchment which got K8.6 million in December last year and invested in groundnut-seed multiplication.
“So far, we have realised almost 640 bags of 50 kilograms of groundnuts from the two hectares. Currently, we are selling K3, 000 for a one-kilogram packet of groundnuts,” says Arnold Chimangeni, chairperson of the group.
With the proceeds that the beneficiaries of the matching grants are reaping, many attest that they have already started transforming their livelihoods for the better.
Solofina Mlozi, 33, a member of the Umodzi group in Chatembenuka village, Kuthembwe says she has already realised K400,000 from the expected K800,000 from the sales of groundnuts.
“I have set aside K200,000 to invest in crop production while the other money I have used to open a grocery shop, contribute to Village Savings and Loans, and also buy food as well as support my three children with school needs,” says Mlozi whose husband abandoned him for another wife.
Olive Vokhiwa, MWASIP Project Coordinator in Blantyre says is satisfied with how the six-year project is impacting positively on increasing the adoption of sustainable land management while at the same time supporting the livelihoods of 12,500 households in the project catchment area.
“Livelihoods of farmers have started transforming and there is hope for further transformation because the enterprises they are into are supporting them with food for survival and also income to boost their businesses, buy valuable assets such as motorcycles, household furniture and building houses,” she says.
She says from the $160 million that the World Bank supported seven districts of the country such as Mangochi, Machinga, Balaka, Zomba, Ntcheu, and Neno, Blantyre received over K1 billion towards MWASIP project implementation.
Out of which, Vokhiwa says K112 million supported eight farmers groups including Chiyanjano, Umodzi, and Limbikani with matching grants.
She adds that another chunk of K257, million was also provided to six qualified agribusiness enterprises to boost their capital to be able to buy produce from the farmers’ groups.
“Furthermore, K253. million was deposited straight into Catchment Management Committee’s accounts to procure working tools while K139. million was for Community Environment Conservation Fund (CECF) and K282. million was for the district’s operations,” she says.
At this juncture, Blantyre District Commissioner, Alex Mdooko urges the beneficiaries of the project to continue participating in the environmental conservation activities even after the phasing out of the project in 2026, to enjoy maximum benefits from the forest and land resources.