Farmer Field Schools: A Dream Come True for Malawian Farmers
Recently CPAR Malawi’s Farmers First Program expanded into the two new group villages of Chinzu and Kabudula. This has brought both excitement and hope to vulnerable small-scale farmers living in the two areas. In the two areas, the project is supporting 500 beneficiaries through Farmer Field Schools (FFS). Through these Farmer Field Schools, small-scale farmers have learned new and improved agricultural methods.
One of the first beneficiaries from the new areas is Divason Phiri 38, from Masinja Village, GVH Chinzu. Divason is married to Chrissy 34 and together, the family has four children all of them girls (Patricia 11, Edna 10, Maria 7 and Enita 3). Three of the girls attend primary school except Enita who is the youngest. Patricia is in standard five, Edna is in standard four and Maria in standard three.
Divason is a typical farmer similar to any other in his village. For years he was growing different crops like maize, groundnuts, soya beans and others. Divason has also been growing vegetables like tomato, mustard, pumpkin leaves. Divason believed that vegetables should be grown during the rainy season and also only grown for home consumption.
“When CPAR introduced Farmers First to our village and facilitated the formation of Farmer Field Schools, I was very pleased when I was selected to be one of the first project beneficiaries to form the Tiyanjane FFS in my village. We started our FFS with 25 members comprising of 14 men and 11 women. After establishing the group, we were trained in new and improved agricultural practices such as conservation agriculture, intercropping, irrigation farming, village savings and loans, etc., by experienced agricultural extension workers. I was particularly impressed with irrigation farming because with irrigation you can grow crops throughout the year. The good thing about the Farmer Field School is that learning is both theoretical and practical thus making a lot of farmers enthusiastic and willing to adopt a variety of skills,” explains Divason
In the FFS, we established our own plot in order to learn through practice. CPAR provided us with startup vegetable seeds like rape, cabbage, mustard, onion and tomato. My main interest was on tomato crops. I was wondering if tomatoes could be grown any time throughout the year.
"After sowing tomatoes in our learning field, I did the same at my garden at home. I followed the good practices that we learnt up until harvest time. I was so amazed that from my small plot of 0.2 hectares I was able to harvest 300 kg from one cropping cycle. I sold about 100kg and generated about K5000.00 ($50). It was easy to sell my tomatoes because they were of high quality. I used the remaining amount of tomatoes for home consumption and also sold some of the excess on the market and was able to buy soap, sugar and school supplies for my girls. Additionally, I also bought shares at my village savings and loan group to help boost my sources of income," he says.
"Before joining the project, I was only getting 50kg per year of low quality tomatoes from the same piece of land that I managed to raise 300kg. Now, I am looking forward to increasing my production land to one hectare in the next growing season.This time, I will make sure that I start irrigation activities as soon as the rainy season ends to grow more vegetables several times a year which will also help me to realize more profits from my agricultural production," he continues.
Through the FFS, Divason has learnt the importance of following good agricultural practices to produce high quality tomatoes.
Teaching vulnerable rural farmers better ways to produce high quality tomatoes has greatly helped farmers from Masinja village to substantially increase their incomes and improve their families’ living conditions.