Soils, Food and Healthy Communities

Soils, Food and Healthy Communities

 
 
 

As we’ve announced on our projects page, SFHC is currently taking an important step to expand its work in Malawi–and connect with students, researchers, and collaborators around the world.
 
The SFHC Farmer Resource and Training Center, when complete, will serve as the hub for all SFHC activities. Large, open rooms stand ready to seat farmers attending training events. Space is set aside for a soon-to-be constructed kitchen for recipe testing, and more empty rooms will one day serve as offices, seed storage, and more. SFHC also plans to build dormitories for visitors working with SFHC.

Visiting the center today, you’re likely to meet Burton Gama and Chance Msangu, pictured to the left in front of the center. Burton and Chance, along with the rest of SFHC’s community promotors, have played a critical role in both the center’s physical construction and the oversight of the example gardens.
 
The gardens demonstrate a great diversity of crops, trees and agroecological techniques. At one end of the property, you’ll find a long row of banana tree collection pits; at the other, the vegetable nursery. Beside the nursery sits the medicinal herb garden and the flower gardens. In the far corner, an excavated pit waits to be filled with water and fish. A huge field of pigeonpea stands tall in its third year. Behind it, many other legume varieties are grown, contributing to the center’s seed bank.

Burton Gama holds a bag of legume seeds from the seed bank.

 

The center’s construction thus far has been made possible through funding from the Government of Canada. However, more funding will be necessary to complete the building. Plumbing, electricity, and other carpentry work will need to be finished, and the cost of training farmers is still outstanding. We’ve laid out all our construction goals here, as well as information about how far a dollar will go toward completing construction.
 
If you’re interested in helping us complete this important project, find out how to donate through Friends of SFHC.

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SFHC team members Esther Lupafya and Anita Chitaya have arrived in the United States, marking the beginning of a month-long journey across the nation. Working with Raj Patel and Generation Food, they will make stops to share their experience with food systems, social issues, and climate change consequences–and much more. Their trip will put them in touch with a myriad of audiences, spreading awareness and telling their stories along the way.

Today’s stop–Washington, D.C.!

Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting journey.

You can follow Raj Patel on Twitter at @_RajPatel, and read more about Generation Food’s mission to share food system stories from around the globe here.

Photo Credit @_RajPatel— From left to right: Anita Chitaya, Esther Lupafya and Raj Patel

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SFHC members spent the day planting legumes, fruit trees and other crops in the new SFHC Centre garden today. They are building a living fence to keep out livestock and are building contour ridges to reduce soil erosion. They have received support from Seeds Knowledge Initiative, a like-minded organization based in South Africa that is helping SFHC build alliances across the region focused on food sovereignty, agroecology and equity. John Nzira from Ukuvuna in South Africa has provided training and support for permaculture design to be integrated into the SFHC Centre.

Pressings Moyo, Esther Lupafya, Esther Maona, Laifolo Dakishoni and other SFHC members build contour ridges and plant crops as part of their new permaculture-designed garden at the SFHC Centre.

Pressings Moyo, Esther Lupafya, Esther Maona, Laifolo Dakishoni and other SFHC members build contour ridges and plant crops as part of their new permaculture-designed garden at the SFHC Centre.

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Timothy Wise, Director of the Research and Policy Program at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, recently visited the MAFFA project site in Lobi. After his visit, Wise published an article with Food Tank highlighting our work while discussing the importance of seed sovereignty in Malawi and in Africa more broadly.

http://foodtank.com/news/2016/07/seed-sovereignty-and-climate-adaptation-in-malawi

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An article that is critical of the draft seed policy in Malawi has been published in the Malawi Nation newspaper by Blessings Chinsinga (at Chancellor College, University of Malawi) and Rachel Bezner Kerr: http://mwnation.com/draft-seed-policy-risks-marginalising-smallholder-farmers/   This article is an outcome of the discussions held during our recent policy workshop in May. Dr. Rachel Bezner Kerr is a professor at Cornell, collaborating researcher with SFHC as well as project director of MAFFA. We hope that this article adds to the growing voices of civil society who have expressed concern and discontent about this policy.

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The MAFFA project team has been busy the last few months with a packed schedule of project activities!  See below a few of the highlights!

Policy Workshop

‘Agroecology-Based Smallholder Farming in Malawi’ policy brief

‘Agroecology-Based Smallholder Farming in Malawi’ policy brief

On May 10, 2016, the MAFFA project team hosted the ‘Agroecology-Based Smallholder Farming in Malawi’ policy workshop in Lilongwe, Malawi.  Government officials, academics, farmers, and representatives from local and regional NGOs came together to discuss 6 key policy recommendations that were based on findings from the work SFHC and partners have been doing for the past 15 years.  The key policy recommendations are:

  1. Invest in agroecological research, training and support
  2. Promote agrobiodiversity
  3. Integrate farmer-to-farmer teaching and farmer experimentation into extension more explicitly, with a focus on mentoring those farmers who are highly food insecure, poor, and socially marginalized
  4. Address gender and other social inequalities and assess gendered impact
  5. Promote diversified and viable rural economies through local value-added processing, small to medium scale rural enterprises, and cooperatives
  6. Promote local seed sovereignty through protection of farmer varieties

Thanks to all who attended and contributed to these important discussions, especially to the MAFFA farmers who shared their personal experiences!  Special thanks also to Dr. Sekhar Nagothu and the Norweigan Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO) for their support of this workshop.

 

Integrated Pest Management

Pests are an ongoing challenge for farmers and can have devastating impacts on yields.  As part of our agroecological approach we do not promote the use of chemical pesticides.  Instead we encourage farmers to experiment with a variety of strategies including intercropping and using repellent plants to control pests.  This approach can be effective, but it can also take time to figure out the right approach or combination of approaches required.

We received a lot of feedback from farmers on the MAFFA project who were having difficulties controlling a variety of pests, with a number of farmers having a particularly tough time controlling a beetle that was attacking their pigeon pea stand.  Pigeon pea is a valuable crop both for improving soil fertility and as a nutritional addition to diets.  To help farmers combat this beetle, among other pests, and to prevent them from becoming discouraged from growing this crop, we arranged for 6 MAFFA staff to attend Integrated Pest Management (IPM) training in August 2015.  The MAFFA team attended a week-long training at the Grow Biointensive Agricultural Centre of Kenya (G-BIACK) and met with Entomologists at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi.  Our staff learned about many different agroecolocial approaches to combatting pests that could be tried with multiple pests and crops.

Upon returning to Malawi, field officers from both Lobi and Ekwendeni provided this training to our farmer promoters and set up experimentation plots in each area at the start of the 2015-2016 growing season to test the efficacy of the new approaches they learned about.  Observations from these plots and interviews with the farmers who used these approaches are currently being done now that the growing season is coming to an end for most crops. The results from these experiments will be shared later this year! 

 

 

Yield Assessment

Most crops, aside from pigeon pea, have been harvested in both Ekwendeni and Lobi and yield assessments are currently underway.  This year Malawi, like many countries in the region, experienced the worst drought in decades, which has devastated crops and left millions of smallholder farmers across the country with no food.  The President declared a state of disaster for the entire country in April 2016, stating that there will be high need for food relief assistance through the duration of the 2016-2017 consumption year.  The impacts of this drought are particularly disastrous as many farmers in Malawi also experienced low yields during the previous growing season due to drought and flooding.

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A photo and video exhibit, entitled Farming for Change which highlights some of SFHC’s earlier work alongside MAFFA will be on display at Cornell University’s Mann Library in Ithaca, New York, for the month of April. This exhibit chronicles some of the struggles and achievements of smallholder farming families in Malawi and Tanzania, in their efforts to improve food security, nutrition, social equity, and sustainable land management in the face of climate change. Climate change is one of many challenges that farmers need to take into consideration, alongside deep gender and other social inequalities, poverty, degraded soils, and limited state support. The photos and videos are drawn from over 15 years of participatory research carried out by Dr. Rachel Bezner Kerr, SFHC staff and farmers and other researchers. Malawi and Tanzania_Mann LCD

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The annual field day was held in Jombo in the northern region this year. The turnout was high and people enjoying seeing the healthy crops and learning how people managed during this poor rainfall year. Those farmers who applied compost manure and planted a wider range of crops found themselves in a better food security situation than many of their neighbours, who had poor crop yields due to another year of poor rains. Here are two of the farmers who had their fields visited today.

Milika Phiri at the Jombo field day, Ekwendeni region, explaining how she has grown such beautiful pigeonpea.

Milika Phiri at the Jombo field day, Ekwendeni region, explaining how she has grown such beautiful pigeonpea.

Field Day Jombo_ Bonnex Nyasulu

Bonnex Nyasulu, who intercropped pigeonpea and groundnuts last year, incorporated the residue, and intercropped orange maize with pigeonpea this year. He applied compost manure twice to his field and his harvest will be plenty!

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SFHC is building a new Farmer Research and Training Center, just outside of Ekwendeni, to provide a site for farmer training, agroecological experimentation, recipe testing, demonstration gardens and research. Our long term vision is that this center will be a place where visitors can learn from and work with farmers – they will be able to see demonstration gardens of agroecological methods, attend trainings run by SFHC, try out new delicious recipes, and (eventually) stay in the new dormitories. The Center is being constructed with funds from the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada, as part of the Malawi Farmer to Farmer Agroecology project.

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How can we fight hunger in Africa? What technologies work? This issue, often debated these days, is compelling discussed in a new TEDMED talk by Raj Patel, who raises the example of SFHC in his talk. http://www.generationfoodproject.org/raj-patels-ted-talk/

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