Recovery project boosts prospects of good harvest in Malawi

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Last year many farmers from Nsanje, Malawi, lost all of their crops due to floods and drought. Because of the scarcity of seeds, prices at the local markets reached an exorbitant level, which many people could not afford. In order to survive they had to eat wild fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Nsanje, located in the lower Shire basin in Malawi, is a drought prone area. With its characteristic hot temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns, the district has proved to be a perpetual disaster zone.

Last year, flash floods damaged a large percentage of crops in the district forcing many to eat wild fruits to survive.

Jeremiah Nikisi, 45, a father of six says his crops were destroyed by floods leaving him with nothing to eat.

“I used to do some menial jobs to get a little money for food but now everyone seems to be having some problems and such jobs are hard to come by,” he says. “All my crops were swept away by floods and we had to eat wild fruits and vegetables to survive.”

Struggling to put food on the table

A DCA recovery project being implemented in Nsanje through local partner Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD) and with funding from the European Commission on Humanitarian Office (ECHO) saw that Jeremiah's food reserves could be boosted by giving him some seeds.

“They also saw that I have potential to do better if I am supported with farm inputs,” explains Jeremiah on why he was selected to be one of the beneficiaries. “Also, the drought wiped out all my crops and I was left with nothing to eat. I always keep part of the harvest for seed but this time I had nothing,” says Jeremiah who comes from the Nyathumbi village in the district.

Jeremiah was given four kilogrammes of millet seed to plant in his fields. He says that he went through tough times because of the drought and subsequent crop failure.

“I am just praying that my crops make it through this season,” he says. “I am struggling to put food on the table for my family and the best I can do is to give them one meal per day for them to survive.”

Hoping for a bumper harvest

With the seed aid, Jeremiah is hopeful that he can turn around his food situation with a bumper harvest if the rains continue falling well.

“I think the seed will help me a lot since I have managed to plant almost all of my two fields. It has germinated so well and it’s now my prayer that the rains continue falling well,” says Jeremiah.

He adds: “I very much appreciate the help from the project because it’s going to ease my food problems. It was really difficult for me to get the seed on the local market because people were not selling as they also had challenges due to the drought,” he says.

Jeremiah says that, with all conditions pointing to a bumper harvest, he will keep some of the seeds for the next planting season as he cannot rely on handouts for ever, “I have planted a big area and I am sure that I will harvest more than six bags. From these, I will have to keep seeds so that I will not suffer when planting time comes again,” he says.

Seed shortage on all markets

Another beneficiary of the seed programme is Wyson Meke, 32, a father of five, also from Nyathumbi village. Wyson, says he has a big field but was failing to get sorghum seeds from the local market.

“Last year, I faced the same problem of seed shortage. I visited several markets here but couldn’t find the seeds. I ended up planting the little I had and managed to get only one bag of sorghum,” he says.

He adds: “Now that I have the seeds, I planted my whole field. I am going to harvest in March and expect a good harvest. I am hoping to get about eight or more bags from my field. That would be enough to take me to the next season,” says Wyson.

Had to eat nyika flowers

Despite the unavailability of millet and sorghum seeds on the local market in Nsanje, some farmers could not raise enough money to buy from other areas.

Fagesi Simbi, 25, says she engages in firewood business but the amount she gets from sales is not enough to cater for her daily food requirements and for the seeds.

“I managed to buy only two small cups of seed,” says Fagesi. “Due to the scarcity of the seeds, those who have it sell at exorbitant prices which puts it out of reach for many people.”

With hunger pressing hard on her family, Fagesi had to turn to nyika flower, a wild tuber that is locally found in the Shire River.

“Its bitter but we don’t have a choice,” says Fagesi adding that the children do not like it because of its taste. “My child refused to eat nyika and was malnourished,” she says.

The coming of the seed aid will greatly change her food situation, says Fagesi, “With these seeds, I will be able to plant a big part of my field this year. I hope to harvest more than I have done in the past when I had problems with the seeds.”

By Joseph Scott, Communications Officer, DCA Malawi