Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Role of Lead Farmers

Professor Banda, one of AWP's field coordinators, spends most his time out on the farms, teaching farmers how to grow more food more efficiently. But even if he could do this 365 days a year for 10 years, he alone could barely scratch the surface.
Professor meets with Lead Farmers in their tomato garden

Looks good! But there are some improvements that could be made.
Lead Farmers look for advice on how to use their available water supply to increase tomato acreage
The best way for Professor to motivate agricultural process changes on a large scale - on the order of 10,000 households per year - is to engage with lead farmers. Lead farmers possess skills that allow them to be successful early adopters of change. They teach in formal and informal interactions with other farmers in their communities, and their work is held up as an example for others to follow. 

Lead Farmer at Ngwangwa shares his ideas and techniques with farmers from nearby villages
Passing through the gardens, farmers meet, greet, and discuss the work.
During the first year or two, while AWP is setting foundations for lead farmers, field coordinators like Professor are busy training Lead Farmers. Later, those lead farmers grow the base of farmers who have adopted improved irrigation and agricultural methods.

Visiting farmers share and ask questions, taking lessons and inspiration back with them.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Lead Farmer Education

To ensure the sustainability and growth of food secure communities, AWP provides higher-level training to agriculture extension officers and lead farmers. The extension officers oversee the implementation of farmer education in the area. We keep them up to date on the tools and information we are providing farmers in the field, and we teach more background that will help them identify and solve challenges before they become major issues in the community.

We also work with lead farmers who are skilled farmers representing the various communities in which we work. The lead farmers role is to provide a connection between outside stakeholders and the communities, and to lead other farmers in the adoption of improved farming methods.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Food Security Self-Assessment

One of the most powerful tools that we introduce to farmers is the Food Security Self-Assessment. This is a one-page worksheet that will help a farmers determine if they are food secure, and how much deficit or surplus food they will encounter. We teach the concepts behind the worksheet, most of which are intuitively understood, like the more mouths to feed, the more food you need. We add to the intuitive understanding by introducing ways to estimate food needs and productions and how to balance land and capital allocation with their needs.

The results of using this tool are: 
1) Individuals and families know with high confidence whether they have a surplus or deficit
2) Families with deficit know the date when they will run out of food at normal consumption rates
3) Farmers know how to use this information to plan their farms to mitigate and prevent food deficits.

In 2017, more than 1,000 households learned to use this tool. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Food Security Opens Door to Further Livelihood Development

 Our goal for the families we teach is for them to have enough food for today, tomorrow, and every day in the future. That's what we mean by "food security". But we know from the families in the program that their needs don't end with having enough food. Many of the families put almost all of their resources into producing food that there is nothing left for them to put into health, education, or improving other aspects of their lives.

When a family becomes food secure the opportunity arises for them to invest in their futures. Most of the farmers in our program put the immediate benefits of having extra food toward developing a long term, stable livelihood. We see four categories of investments: 1) reinvesting into irrigation; 2) purchasing livestock; 3) education for family members; 4) other small businesses.

Here are some photos of farmers that trained with AWP last year and how they put new resources toward their futures. Two purchased bicycles that they will use as taxis to earn a small daily income. One purchased a solar panel that powers a barbershop - complete with shaver and music.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Chigonthi Irrigation Project

Chigonthi Irrigation Project was a new project for us in 2017. The Chigonthi area comprises about 25,000 households in the rural north west of Lilongwe district. Our objective was to decease the risk of hunger and malnutrition in 11 communities by training farmers in 8 food security strategies.

In total, 384 households were trained. Every community has a demonstration garden, where they are practicing crop management, irrigation, organic composting, pest control, and mulching. Budgeting, planning, balanced diet, and crop storage are practiced at home.

In pictures: community and individual gardens, some have even harvested and planted again under irrigation. These crops will be met with rainfall in November and December, easing the irrigation challenge and providing a food crop late in the year when most other families are running out of food.

Farmers dig shallow wells by hand. It's a muddy job. The well in the picture below is being deepened to extend the irrigation season.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Continuous Harvest


Farmers know that one growing season, dependent on rainfall alone, is not enough to ensure they will have plenty of food to eat and income to spare. The adopted solution is irrigation to bring in a second growing season. But how about a third growing season? Sounds good and many at Ngwangwa are already at three seasons per year.

But some farmers are going a step further: staggered planting. In this method, farmers will divide their plot into as many as 12 sections - 1 for each month - and plant at equal intervals so that there is always a crop to plant, a crop to manage, and a crop to harvest. This works best for vegetables that have a short shelf life and a long harvesting period. With leafy greens like mustard and rape, farmers who stagger their crops can have a continuous harvest all year long.

One farmer using this method grows vegetables in intervals of 3-4 weeks. He has been selling vegetables worth $30 per week for the past 3 months, while having plenty of greens on his family's plates too. Shortening the intervals between planting is one of the strategies AWP looks for to determine the sustainability of the farms.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Public Policy Makers Visit Ngwangwa Irrigation Project

On Thursday, Hon. Dr. Jessie Kabwila, MP, toured the Ngwangwa Irrigation Project with two Ugandan lawmakers and members of the National Commission for Science and Technology in an effort to gain understanding of how to fight poverty through irrigation. The AWP staff shared our experiences and advised the parliamentarians on policies that would be beneficial to rural farmers who comprise 85% of the population of Malawi.

The visiting Ugandan MPs commended AWP and the local government extension workers for collaborating to help the communities. Hon. Kabwila, who is the chairman of the Women's Caucus, believed the success of the project is a result of the inclusion of a majority of women farmers, many of them widows and single mothers.

AWP implored parliament to enact policies that would promote security and investment in rural areas. Farmers addressed the delegation with their concerns, noting the challenge of raising capital to invest in their farms.