Friday, January 16, 2015

Small Plates

The lean months have started. Kids scrounge maize kernels that have dropped from grain silos and storage sacks. Roasted and served on a tin lid, the snack holds them over lunch.
By providing input loans at Mziza, AWP ensures that farmers and their families avoid this situation. Club members continue to rely on the harvest from 7 months ago. The effects of food security on their families go far beyond what we can observe.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Getting Going at Mphombe

Chiefs and lead farmers met at Mphombe to discuss the way forward on food security in their village. The leaders expressed the community's struggle to provide food throughout the year. The most vulnerable tend to run out of food first. That means widows, children and the elderly lack food when they need it most.

The challenge of accessing capital for their farmers was also brought up. Leaders agreed that if the farmers knew how to plan and how to use their local resources, farm yields would increase. Importantly, many farmers don't believe that compost can provide sufficient soil nutrients to grow their crops. Leaders realized that the use of compost was not uniform among farmers, which leads to varied results.

We agreed on a strategy that would help farmers minimize their farming costs by using local resources in the best way possible. Fertilizer would be reduced in favor of compost, but farmers would need to be trained in how to make and use compost first. Use of pesticides would be stopped by maintaining clean, brush-free environments surrounding their gardens.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fruits of Food Security

We are now seeing good results from our maize storage trial. Last year, ten farmers volunteered to store maize at the AWP office. Together they stored 63 bags, or about 7,000 lbs, of maize. Seven months after the harvest, they have taken the first 2 bags back to meet food shortages at home.
The purpose of the trial was to see if farmers could avoid food shortages by keeping maize in a controlled storeroom. It's very easy to sell maize when it is stacked in your living room. Vendors on bicycles pass through the village offering to trade grain for second-hand clothes, soap, or even salt. Usually the farmer loses on these trades. But if maize is out of sight, it's difficult to misuse.
Now that we have seen the maize last for seven months, and we expect it to last a further 5 months, we know that this kind of storage arrangement helps farmers. The farmers are grateful for the opportunity as well, but they know that they should put even more grain into storage. The farming club will have to work on how to build their own storage to meet this need.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 Look Back

Food security is not just about having food. It's about having security, the knowledge that your next meal is there when you want it. Farmers are becoming secure in their ability to produce enough for their families. And when families are not overwhelmed by the search for food, other important family matters can be addressed, like health, shelter and education.

This year the Mziza Farming Club harvested more than ever before, storing over 7,700 lbs. of reserve grain. Farming families continued to improve the quality of their houses, toilets, and water sources. With enough stored grain, farmers focused on generating income and providing nutritious vegetables through irrigation. 

A low input, high yield growing season was added to the farming calendar in late August. Farmers grew beans, which require no chemicals or fertilizer and provide protein to their diets. Usually during this time farmers' irrigation gardens are inactive.

Lead farmers were trained at Mphombe, Mphimbe, and Malika villages. These farmers will provide experience and guidance to their respective clubs as the remaining farmers are trained in the coming year.

Food security training teaches farmers how to fend off hunger with strategies that don't cost anything. Farmers at Chifuchambewa learned how to plan for lean times, stretch grain supplies with irrigation, and avoid selling food supplies by growing valuable vegetables during the dry season. Farmers have been putting these methods into practice and will see the benefits during the hunger season of January through March.

The AWP demo garden provided a foundation for training farmers in all our project areas. Farmers were able to see the proper crop layout and waterway construction. The windmill on the demo showed farmers the potential for growth on their farms. 

Going into 2015, we are excited to see the number of farmers using advanced irrigation techniques increase. As we train them to incorporate the techniques into an improved farm management method, farmers will realize the dream of food security.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Learning from the demo garden

One of the best ways to learn a new skill is to see it in practice. That's why AWP operates a demonstration garden at Mziza. Today we brought 13 farmers from Mphimbi Village to see how we farm and irrigate our crops. This visit will provide a grand of reference for the trainings to come and hopefully inspire them to innovate and go beyond the typical vegetable garden.

They saw the layout of our garden, the windmill and tank, and how we prepare manure throughout the year. At a nearby Mziza club garden, the visitors had a chance to use a rope pump and water a pea garden.

The Mphimbi farmers will bite formulate goals for themselves and their club as a whole. As they look into their food requirements at home, they will have a picture in their minds of how they can manage to grow that much food.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How many farmers does it take to feed a village?

With lead farmers trained at Malika and Mphombe, it was time to get to know the remaining club members, and to see their gardens. Many of the farmers had small plots of vegetables or maize, but the overall output of these gardens is insufficient to meet the needs of the families they are intended to feed.

The 23 farmers pictured here provide food to 140 family members and numerous others who will join their table when food becomes scarce. They will do this with just 63 acres of land, making food security a challenging proposition. But they have the opportunity to add 24 acres of irrigation, from which they may harvest twice per year. This increases their potential acreage 111 acres.

But that is a long way off. With current skills and capital, these farmers may only plant half that amount, and yields will be low. The Malika and Mphombe farming clubs have committed to learning how to maximize their production to put enough food on every table in their villages.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Third Harvest

This is not the season for growing corn and beans - at least not traditionally. While the rest of the village is thinking about the upcoming rainy season, the Mziza farming club continues planting, growing, and harvesting, just as they do year round.

 Yesterday, we saw this maize garden approaching maturity. The sale of this crop will be enough to provide inputs for one acre of maize, which in turn will supply food for the farmer's family for the whole year.
Adjacent to the maize garden, a near quarter acre of beans will yield all the beans needed to last to the end of the rainy season, when the threat of hunger has passed. These farmers are serious about a three-harvest year.