Malawi has declared a state of disaster over worsening food shortages as concerns grow over a hunger crisis spreading across much of southern Africa.
The promising progress made during the first nine months of the Nkhata Bay Natural Way (NBNW) initiative in Malawi has been thrown into jeopardy by the severe drought caused by the failure of the rains in December.
However Programme Manager, Emmanuel Banda, said these challenging conditions only served to underline the importance of the NBNW project – because farmers were being trained to use agroforestry and a selection of tried and tested crops to achieve greater drought resilience.
“We are trying to sensitise farmers over the need to adapt to new farming techniques and technology,” he said
“Productivity has been dropping as a result of climate change but with new techniques and new strategies we expect farmers to learn skills for better management, and maintain quality and quantity for the better market.”
Nkhata Bay Natural Way, one of the largest and most significant programmes supported by ITF, is targeting marginalised groups in 110 villages in the economically-deprived district of Nkhata Bay North, on the western shore of Lake Malawi.
The aims are to improve food security and nutrition through adoption of environmentally-sustainable farming; build resilience to climate change; promote community stewardship of forest conservation and management; increase household incomes through establishment of forest-friendly enterprises and strengthen local governance and bylaws to help protect and improve natural resources.
After an unusually dry spell in November and December, the rains finally came towards the end of December an early January.
A total of 18 tree nurseries have been established in upland areas and around the lake shore, managed by volunteers from 30 surrounding villages. More than 70,000 trees have been planted out and more will be planted before the rainy season finishes at the end of this month.
Indigenous species have been raised for cultivated for planting out in the forests while species that produce valuable foods such as Moringa and nitrogen-fixing species such as Gliricidia have been selected for use in agro-forestry in and around farmsteads.
The recent rains have allowed farmers to harvest the first crops of maize, ground nuts, beans peanuts, potatoes and soya.
Meanwhile loans will be to help farmers who set up businesses and micro-enterprises as part of promotion of Income Generation Activities (IGAs) which help households to earn income from high-value forest and farm crops without damaging the natural environment.
Among enterprises so far identified for support are bee-keeping and honey production, mushroom growing, potato growing, soya beans production and fish farming.
Discussions are also underway with local government officers and the Department of Forestry over the introduction of bylaws to discourage mismanagement of forest resources and associated environmental degradation. These will be overseen by local Area Development Committees and Village Development Committees.
NBNW is a ground-breaking collaborative programme involving ITF (the lead partner) Temwa Malawi and Deki Ltd, funded by the UK Big Lottery Fund and JJ Charitable Trust with a total budget of £642, 541. Work started in July and it was was officially launched on September 26, 2015, at a ceremony in Usisya attended by more than 400 people.
Mr Banda, said: “This project is bringing to life local structures so as to make people aware of their responsibilities and to help them understand best practices in terms of environmental management and forest stewardship.
“What is very encouraging is that we are beginning to reach communities in remote areas where in the past initiatives by government and NGOs have failed – because the topography of the land makes these villages very inaccessible.
“The general view from the people we have reached is that this project will change the lives of people by improving environmental management – and that it will be beneficial for people’s livelihoods and their daily lives.”
A project team, led by the Project Manager Benson Chiumia comprising six field officers has been set up.
In addition 86 smallholder farmers have been trained as “lead farmers.”
Mr Chiumia said: “In many cases members did not know how to grow food crops like vegetables and other staple food, and they had to buy them from the local market which might be many kilometres away.
“They are very happy to be given choice to grow what they want for themselves.”
Nationwide about 2.8 million Malawians – nearly 20 per cent of the population – face food insecurity, making the country one of the worst hit in southern and eastern Africa, where the current drought affects 50 million people, according to United Nations figures.
Malawi’s maize production has dropped by 12 percent, leaving it short of about one million tonnes of maize needed to feed the population. President Peter Mutharika has now declared a state of national disaster.