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.
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!
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:
Invest in agroecological research, training and support
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
Address gender and other social inequalities and assess gendered impact
Promote diversified and viable rural economies through local value-added processing, small to medium scale rural enterprises, and cooperatives
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Raj Patel, a scholar and activist known for his renowned book about the food system, Stuffed and Starved, is working on a new documentary called Generation Food. SFHC is one of the focus organizations in the film. A preview was recently released, which highlights the efforts of one of our community promoters and long-term SFHC volunteer, Anita Chitaya. It is inspiring! Check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItuL8uVRjK4&feature=youtu.be
The first week of a new farmer-led curriculum, which integrates teaching on agroecology, nutrition, climate change and gender and social equity, was tested with 300 households in the Dedza District the first week of March. There was a lot of interest and enthusiasm for the material this first week of training. An additional 200 households will participate in this curriculum training in Mzimba District the third week of March. The curriculum, which was developed through a collaboration between SFHC, Cornell University, Michigan State University, University of Manitoba, Action Aid Tanzania and Chancellor College, University of Malawi, uses drama, dialogue and other teaching methods, and draws on the long-term methods used by SFHC. The curriculum is 2 weeks in length, and the second week of training will take place in April. The curriculum development was funded by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University. It will also be tested in Tanzania with 400 households in 2016. We intend to make this curriculum available for public, not-for-profit use once we have revised it based on farmer feedback.
In collaboration with scientists at the University of Manitoba, lead by Dr. Trust Beta, and with Chancellor College, we have published a new paper in the scientific journal Food Chemistry that shows evidence of the high value of local, open-pollinated orange maize as a source of vitamin A. Known locally as mtinkinya, the local orange maize used to be eaten as a porridge, but had declined in use. We collected 26 samples of white maize and 35 samples of local orange maize samples from farmers in central Malawi in 2014. The average amount of beta-carotene, for example, was 40 times higher in local orange maize than white maize samples. Based on the analysis, 100 grams of local orange maize samples were estimated to provide between 8 – 17% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A for an adult man. These results provide important support for our approach, which supports diverse cropping systems, agrobiodiversity and local indigenous knowledge. Details on the paper will be listed under our research results.
On February 25, one of SFHC’s annual Field Days was hosted in the area surrounding Dedza, in the southern region of Malawi. This is a new area for the MAFFA project, and we were delighted with the level of participation: a total of 2301 people attended (1178 men and 1213 women) excluding 230 children. Field Days are educational and promotional events held in the rural communities each year. They consist partly of several field visits, where outstanding farmers show their fields and explain to the audience the techniques they have used. It is a method of sharing ideas to farmers who are new or experienced members of the project, and showcasing the successes of households using agroecological techniques. The District Agricultural Development Officer and the Traditional Authority Kachere both commended MAFFA for the great crops and crop husbandry technologies displayed. They expressed excitement about farmer to farmer visits and learning, reviving orange maize and the cooperation with the Agricultural office which they said was good for continuity of MAFFA’s work.
Photos from recent Dedza Field Days below. Photo credit: Carmen Bezner Kerr.
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