Thursday, April 19, 2018

Gideon Lungu: Working Toward a Goal

Every farmer we work with begins by assessing their basic household food needs. This assessment works more or less the same for everyone: add up number of people and multiply by recommended consumption. The trick to making this an effective tool in the fight against hunger is to teach and empower the farmers to do this assessment themselves - and when no one is around to remind them.

In practice, the Food Security Self Assessment catches on rather easily and becomes second nature once the farmers realize how useful it is for setting goals. And of course, how useful goals are in achieving success.

After self assessment and goal setting, the farmers begin to ramp up the productivity and conservation strategies that we teach them. Not every strategy is new to the farmers. Many farmers will adapt their existing methods to meet their goals as well. 

As an example, we teach farmers about composting. Some farmers have never tried it before, but most have practiced composting in some form or another. The method is well understood, but the impact is often not quantified and targeted at predefined objectives.

Irrigation is the same way. The basics are understood by most farmers, but irrigation is not applied in an integrated, systematic way to an overall plan that is leading the farmer toward food security.
Gideon Lungu, from Chigonthi irrigation project, has a garden that receives runoff from fields above. This garden has always been a place for Gideon to irrigate vegetables, but it never provided a significant amount of food until he laid out a plan toward a goal based on his Self Assessment.
Now this garden is a stopgap between rainy season and dry season. By using the residual moisture provided by the runoff, Gideon can grow maize in the entire garden several months into the dry season. The method is very useful when the rain has been unevenly distributed throughout the season. As yields are effected by erratic rainfall in the upper fields, Gideon's garden still receives a steady runoff. As the runoff dries up, Gideon begins drawing water from shallow wells.

Techniques like Gideon's runoff garden provide a smoothing effect to spikes in food supply that are caused by unpredictable shocks like erratic rains, pests, and illnesses in the farmer's family. Farmers who use such techniques are not as worried about any one particular crop; their risks are spread out over multiple seasons, and they can specifically mitigate the major risks to any particular season by using the right strategies in subsequent seasons.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Recognizing Outstanding Farmers

As the rainy season is winding down, preparation for irrigation is ramping up. But as we have noted in years past, many farmers don't wait for the end of one season to start in on the next. They farm year-round. This is exactly the result we are looking for! This month we are recognizing two outstanding families for their leadership in planting early and often.

Zude and his family are busily harvesting their tobacco (which is the first rainy season crop to be harvested so that it can dry in the shade). But Zude knows that the tobacco market will not meet his family's needs for much longer. He has decided to plant a large irrigated garden - big enough to feed everyone in the house and fund some home repair, medical, and health needs. He has shown good leadership, not just by planting early, but by also planting beans between his rows of maize. This will ensure a better balance of protein in the diet, and it increases watering efficiency for the beans when the maize is tall enough to provide shade.

Another great leader this year is the Toyoyo family. They are new to irrigation, but have impressed their fellow farmers with their hard work and discipline. The family is often the first to the gardens in the morning and last to leave. They know that time spent working on their crops is not wasted.

By spending more time in the garden, they are able to do more than just weeding and watering. They reduce pests by clearing brush from the hedges, and they carefully control diseases by removing any signs of infection from the field before it spreads. This saves them money on pest and disease control chemicals - making for a healthier crop overall.

They have also planted onions next to their maize garden. Onions are an important ingredient in most local stews and vegetable dishes. Demand is always high, but supply dips during the early winter, exactly when the Toyoyo's crop will be ready for sale. Good planning!

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.