19 September 2019
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When communities unite to solve own problems

Written by  Nellie Kapatuka
People in Chilonga gathered for a common purpose-environmental restoration People in Chilonga gathered for a common purpose-environmental restoration

Mulanje, May 10, 2019: He could only manage to harvest 50 bags of maize and three bags of groundnuts from 13 hectares of land.

But George Mwale noticed a turnaround two years ago when yields skyrocketed to around 200 bags of maize and 12 bags of groundnuts from the same piece of land.

In fact, if you ask him today about what transpired to achieve such a yield, Mwale will tell you that he owes the feat to improved farming techniques, prime among them, conservation agriculture.

The techniques, which are products of a study circle, enabled him to make a killing of K700, 000 from crop produce sales.

Mwale is now a proud owner of an oxcart and a house roofed with corrugated iron sheets.

“My life has totally transformed since I took farming as a business. This is unlike in the past when farming was only a seasonal activity,” Mwale says.

Established by the Malawi Lake Basin Programme (MLBP), the study circles operate in clusters in Kasungu, Salima, Mangochi and Ntcheu districts where people involved meet to discuss community problems and find solutions.

Common problems at both household and community level include food shortage resulting from poor yields perpetrated by climate change and low income levels.

Mwale says the solutions to the problems include natural resource and environmental management activities, sustainable and climate smart farming techniques, and village savings and loans scheme.

“People that adopted the solutions as recommended by the study circles have seen their livelihoods change significantly for the better,” Mwale says.

For instance, members of Kachere Youth Club in Mlesi Cluster from Group Village Head Kanjewere in Chief Khombedza’s area in Salima are into goat and rabbit production apart from cultivating crops.

Additionally, the club is into natural regeneration programme whereby members have established woodlots to regenerate natural forest cover to build resilience to climate change effect characterised by erratic rainfall.

In TA Pemba’s area in Salima, a group of women under Titukulane Village Savings and Loans (VSL) scheme within Kapira Cluster is the talk of the community.

Unlike other VSL schemes where members get cash in form of savings, interest or dividends, the women agreed to be only purchasing household items and share instead of getting cash at the end of each cycle.

Kapira Cluster coordinator Letina Nedson says, over the past years, the women have managed to purchase mattresses, plastic chairs and kitchen utensils, among other household items.

“Our livelihoods have completely transformed because we noted that whenever we get our yearly savings, some members were complaining that their husbands were using the money for their own personal gains,” Nedson says.

District Coordinator for WE Effect, under the MLBP in Salima, Mwabi Sichinga says the study circle methodology is bearing fruits.

“Most of the clusters have been so outstanding in their focus areas,” Sichinga says.

Sichinga explains that the organisation only provides technical support and capacity building to its participating members.

“We are happy that people embraced the initiative considering the success stories registered so far,” Sichinga says.

In Chilonga Village in the area of TA Makanjira in Mangochi, community led efforts in environmental management are equally bearing fruits as Mdadada Hill which was slowly becoming bare has now been regenerated.

A visit to the area clearly shows the commitment and zeal people have towards green cover restoration in their community.

Chilonga Village Natural Resource Management Committee chairperson Geoffrey Ingilesi says over 10, 000 trees were planted during the 2018/2019 national tree planting season which ended on April 15.

Among others, Mthutu and Chammwamba trees were planted in gardens to improve soil fertility.

“We divided ourselves according to the six villages we come from. A particular day is assigned to each village to come and take care of the trees,” Ingilesi says.

Farmer Organisation Facilitator for MLBP Boadzulu Field Office Zasintha Namagonya says people in Chilonga have shown total commitment by owning the project on the basis that the community exactly knows their needs.

“Chilonga area used to experience very erratic rains but rainfall pattern has since improved from the time the community embarked on the reforestation project in 2014,” Namagonya says.

MLBP Deputy Director Esther Chirwa says the organisation’s main goal is to reduce poverty and people’s vulnerability to climate change effects.

“We are currently reaching out to about 127, 808 smallholder farmers with knowledge of sustainable and smart farming.

“Our main goal is to complement government’s efforts to reduce poverty and build community resilience to climate change shocks by introducing long mitigation measures,” Chirwa says.

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