Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Expanding to the River

Currently, farmers at Chifuchambewa in Salima rely on wellsprings to supply irrigation water. The wells produce a fixed amount of water per day, which limits the acreage that can be irrigated. However, the men in this photo are making plans to use the Lipimbi river for irrigation for the first time this year
In the dry season, the river clears up and the volume reduces to a modest flow rate. The challenge these farmers face is how to lift the water 6 to 10 meters up the steep banks.

Monday, February 17, 2014

First maize of the year

Last month, I blogged a few photos of maize gardens our farmers planted ahead of the rains. The time has come.
Earlier this month, farmers at Mziza began harvesting maize from the river banks. As we had hoped, this maize arrives in time to stave off hunger during the leanest months of the year. It's hard for us to image just what it means to a farmer's family to harvest at this time. But if they can go through these months without skipping a meal, they have achieved something great in their lives. It is the first step in assuring food security and good nutrition to this community throughout 2014.
Even farmers who didn't plant early will benefit from this harvest. Maize prices have dropped by 40% in the last month, down to US$0.11 per pound from a peak of US$0.18. This means that you will get almost 65% more maize for your buck this month. If for example, a farmer sells a chicken for US$4.00, he can now buy 36 pounds of maize, rather than just 22 pounds. A difference of 14 pounds means an extra 1-2 days of food for a family.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Teamwork and unity among farmers

 We held one of our favorite trainings earlier this week in Chifuchambewa, Salima. No community is immune to conflicts, jealousy, and disorganization. Every year we take new farmers through a leadership, conflict resolution, and teamwork training. If you gauged the impact of a training by how heated the discussion gets, most of our agricultural trainings would look pretty dull. People are quiet - learning for sure, but quiet. Not on this subject, not at all.

 For some reason, this topic sparks passion in the community. Discussion is lively. But what we find is that everyone knows their community is broken, relationships are weakest when teamwork is most needed. Jealousy comes from even close friends, at times when congratulations and reinforcement are most due. And everyone knows it's all wrong.

But what can we do about it? they ask. Usually, good answers, good solutions emerge from within the group. Simply bringing up the topic generates excellent ideas. We are just there to provide tools that help the community put their ideas into practice.
After the discussions, the club shared a meal together, which is an expression of unity in this culture. New irrigation farmers learn from the beginning that going it alone does not work most of the time. We expect the ideas that sprang up in this meeting are will grow in practice.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Learning about organic compost, Chibanzi

 Chibanzi Village is home to our second oldest project site, and hometown to our Irrigation Coordinator, Blessings Malamba (pictured in NASA T-shirt). The village is 50 miles from the Capital Lilongwe, 10 miles from the nearest town in Dowa District.

This week farmers were being trained in compost making. Compost reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. Fertilizers are a petroleum product, made from the crude oil. This means their price is linked to global fuel prices. By using organic compost, farmers can grow high quality produce, at or near the yield expected with expensive fertilizers - at a fraction of the cost. Compost only costs your effort to collect manure and organic matter for decomposing.

Later in the day, farmers received their first inputs for the 2014 irrigation season: onions. Just like Mziza, these farmers want an early start. They should harvest as much as 6 metric tonnes of fresh onions. At prices up to US$0.50 per kilo, they might net anywhere from US$1,000 to US$3,000.

For comparison, Malawi's per capita GDP is US$260 per year.