Boosting food, nutrition security with climate smart agriculture

Until recently when Plan International Malawi introduced Kakungu Climate Change Adaptation Project in Traditional Authority (T/A) Njewa in Lilongwe, most families did not yield enough to meet their food and nutrition requirements.

Eventually, children, the elderly and others with underlying medical conditions had become perpetual guests of the nutrition rehabilitation units in public hospitals.

Samuel captured on her field before the past growing season–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu

“Climate change exacerbated the risks of hunger and malnutrition in most of our families. It affected all dimensions of our food and nutrition security besides making farming even more challenging and unpredictable,” narrates Felister Mwale of Group Village Head (GVH) Njewa.

Malawi is one of the countries grappling with the effects of climate change, with agriculture being the most affected sector. Changes in climatic conditions have affected the production of some staple crops, and future climate change threatens to exacerbate this.

Weather experts say higher temperatures will have an impact on yields while changes in rainfall could affect both crop quality and quantity.

Climate change could also increase the prices of major crops in some countries. For the most vulnerable people, lower agricultural output would also mean lower income.

Nyirenda–The project was initially targeting 10, 000 farming households in Kakungu EPA only–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu

Under these conditions, the poorest people — who already use most of their income on food — would have to sacrifice additional income to meet their nutritional requirements.

The World Food Programme (WFP) singles out undernutrition as one of the world’s most serious, but least addressed socioeconomic and health problems.

The organization states that the human and socioeconomic costs of undernutrition are enormous, falling hardest on the poorest, especially on women and children.

“The most vulnerable people cannot access enough of the major macronutrients such as carbohydrates, fats and protein. Perhaps another billion are thought to suffer from ‘hidden hunger’, in which important micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals are missing from their diet, with consequent risks of physical and mental impairment,” states the Programme.

It adds that millions of the world’s people who have experienced undernutrition early in life face many challenges as they grow up.

They encounter an increased risk of illness and death when young, have trouble at school, and are often not able to make a full contribution to the social and economic development of their households, communities and nations when they become adults.

And in an effort to end chronic nutrition and food insecurity among the households in T/A Njewa, Plan International Malawi has expanded its Kakungu Climate Change Adaptation Project in Njewa Extension Planning Area (EPA) so that more farming families benefit.

The organization has facilitated the establishment of radio listening clubs through which the smallholder farmers learn modern farming technologies.

The Kakungu Climate Change Adaptation Project Communications Officer, Chawanangwa Nyirenda, said the project was initially targeting 10, 000 farming households in Kakungu EPA only.

Through the project, the farmers are learning new farming technologies through radio listening programs.

One of the farmers, Felista Samuel of Mwanjema Radio Listening Club, says for a number of years, she has been struggling with farming and ended up harvesting less produce than expected.

“Finding adequate fertilizer alone has been a major challenge for my family as we rely on subsistence farming. The coming of these technologies including manure making will surely help me to do better in this year’s farming season,” says Samuel.

She adds that following the effects of climate change, time has come for farmers to adopt new farming technologies if they are to yield more on a small piece of land.

She says erratic rains, among others, also contribute to less harvest, which have made most farmers to rely on menial work to survive instead of farming.

“We hope that the introduction of these technologies will help to sort some of the challenges,” muses Samuel.

A 22-year-old farmer, Lutiya Mwale, of Mwanjema Radio Listening Club says due to change in climate and the high cost of inputs, most of the subsistence farmers are struggling to feed themselves throughout the year.

Mwale said they expect things to turn around with the introduction of the project.

“We are very happy to be part of this project and we will religiously practice it,” she said.

The Kakungu Climate Change Adaptation Project Communications Officer, Chawanangwa Nyirenda, says the project was initially targeting 10, 000 farming households in Kakungu EPA only.

The targeted farmers have been receiving starter-pack inputs and extension services, according to Nyirenda.

“Radio programmes was one recommendation that was highlighted to help disseminate information from Kakungu farmers to others within Njewa area. Currently, we aim to target many farmers with the Ulimi Opindulitsa programme which enables farmers to learn from Kakungu farmers who are doing well through farming,” he says.

Nyirenda adds that due to public demand, Plan International Malawi has expanded and extended the project to Mpingu EPA so that more farmers can benefit.

He says the ultimate goal of the project is to mitigate adverse effects of climate change so that farming households can harvest adequate yields to meet their food and nutrition needs.

The Agriculture Extension Development Coordinator (AEDC) for EPA, Doris Msiska said the radio listening initiative has greatly helped farmers in the area to realise the importance of taking farming seriously and that it is possible to harvest more with the pieces of land they have.

Msiska said the area has an average land holding size of less than an acre per household hence the need for farmers to maximize their production.

“We are glad that so far at least 1556 farmers are adopting the new farming technologies within Mpingu EPA which means this year we will see change in terms of produce. Erratic rains, among others, also contribute to less harvests which have made most farmers to rely on piece works for survival than farming in general,” she explained.

Msiska expressed hope that the coming in of these technologies will help to sort some of the challenges.

On the other hand, Felister Mwale states that the coming of these technologies such as the making of compost manure will help them yield enough in the next growing season.

In 2014, Plan Malawi International started implementing the Kakungu Climate Change Adaptation Programme, which aimed at empowering farmers to be economically stable and in 2018 the Kakungu farmers decided to teach others what was working for them.

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