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Onion: Nsanje’s emerging cash crop

Written by  Martin Chiwanda
Bison taking care of  onions Bison taking care of onions

Nsanje, January 25, 2019: Well-known for hot temperatures throughout three-quarters of a year and erratic rainfall, Nsanje District has always been selective with crops.

Inhabitants bank their hope in crops resilient to hot weather such as sorghum, millet and sweet potatoes.

For decades, hunger has been hitting the district hard due to inadequate harvests associated with dry spells and floods that hit the district every year.

Government and different non-governmental organizations have been providing relief maize, the staple food, to many households over the years.

The harsh weather conditions coupled with the annual relief food aid diverted many from serious farming.

However, a new cash crop in the district is fetching good prices on the market, prompting many farmers to start cultivating along the Shire River banks.

Those with no land along the banks have ventured into irrigation farming with the aid of Christian Aid.

Through Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD), Christian Aid has instituted a K62 million solar-powered irrigation scheme at Makoka Irrigation Scheme in the area of Traditional Authority Chimombo.

Makoka is a five-hectare irrigation scheme which benefits 71 farmers from the area and has been in operation for three years now.

Apart from onion, farmers plant maize, tomato and vegetables.

The scheme’s chairperson Chaipa Bison says farmers prefer onions to the other crops because it has proven to be much productive and profitable.

Bison says many farmers have benefited a lot in the past two years in that the perception some people had that the district’s weather condition is not suitable for onions has been cleared.

“Currently, I personally own 110 beds of onions and, for the past two years, my financial status has improved.

“In the first year, I grew 27 beds of onions and made a profit of about K70, 000 which I used to buy three bags of cement, kitchen utensils and a bicycle,” he says.

Bison adds that from the current sales, he is able to pay school fees for his four children.

“I have just bought chairs and eight 10-feet iron sheets for roofing my kitchen and goats kraal,” he says.

Ellen Lidi is another member of the scheme who has fattened her purse with money from onion sales. She made a profit of about K115, 000 from last year’s sales.

“My life is no longer the same; I have managed to buy a bicycle, I pay school fees for my children and feed my family well,” Lidi says.

From their two-year experience, the farmers say they have proved that onions are more resistant to diseases than any other crop grown in the scheme hence reduced costs of production.

Onions are consumed in virtually every household due to their flavourful taste that transforms any meal to an aromatic experience. To this effect, the Nsanje farmers have a readily available market locally.

“We sell our onions in marketplaces right here in Nsanje but vendors come from as far as Blantyre to buy in large quantities,” Bison says.

However, he says, they have plans to form a cooperative society to increase sells and maximize profits.

“We feel we can make more money if we sell the onion as a group through a cooperative,” Bison says.

CARD’s project officer Charles Msowoya says the organisation is pleased that farmers embraced onions as a cash crop and are now able to make more money from it than any other crop.

“Soon after establishing the scheme, farmers wanted to be planting maize only; but we advised them to plant high value crops such as vegetables and onions to fight poverty.

“We are pleased that they have now realized that more money is in onions,” Msowoya says.

He says CARD ensured that farmers are trained in various aspects of onion production such as site selection, land preparation, pest and disease control, crop establishment, plant nutrition, irrigation, post-harvest practices and marketing.

“Onion farmers’ lives have improved because most of them are economically empowered.

“They are able to buy bicycles, iron sheets, goats and even paying school fees for their children in secondary schools which was not the case before starting onion farming,” Msowoya says.