Forests for Malawian farmers

Farmer in Malawi reading a farmer's magazine

Reading a farmers’ magazine on the market in Malawi

Consolata Nkanda, a smallholder farmer in Mchinji district cannot help but wonder how she is going to provide for her household the rest of the year.  This is because she harvested over 50 percent less of her food crops which she grows every year.

“I was hoping to harvest enough to keep in the home and sell some for cash to assist in providing for my family.  I have five children to look after all year round,” she says outside a small granary in her house compound where only a bag of 50 kgs of maze remains.  As soon as this bag of maize is finished, Consolata needs to find other alternatives to support her home. This is just a small example of the thousands of farmers in Malawi where unpredictable rainfall this year has caused a lot of crops to wilt or be washed away due to flooding in some districts.

The National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) is a smallholder owned organisation that works towards improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers by providing programmes that are there to increase their productivity.  Every year runs a tree planting season for its farmer members to plant trees in their communities. 

Eunice Banda, a smallholder farmer from Muhawi village, Mzimba district located in the northern region of Malawi chants a song of celebration with her fellow women of Muhawi Women’s Club;  a song of ululation and triumph after they have sold over half of their 6,000 tree seedlings.  Next on their agenda is to distribute these seedlings among themselves to plant in their households and along the primary schools which some of their children go to.  But this is just a small fraction of the bigger picture; throughout the country, NASFAM members have done exactly what Banda and her fellow women have done and even more.

It is alarming to note the extent of environmental degradation that has occurred in Malawi over the past years; large swathes of forests have disappeared and fertile soils have been lost due to erosion.  Forest cover is being lost at the rate of at 2.4 percent every year and more land could become bare in the near future. As a result, cases of soil erosion and flooding will increase.  It is against this background that NASFAM has over the years participated actively in the national and global effort to reverse environmental degradation and build resilient communities and farming systems in the wake of climate change.  One major area where the organisation has registered enviable success is in tree planting.

With support from Development Partners such as IrishAid and the Royal Norwegian Embassy, NASFAM has to date planted over 18 million trees in Malawi.  Through farmer clubs and other groups such as Muhawi Women’s Club, farmers develop their own tree nurseries and set up plans on the areas to plant these tree seedlings in their communities.

“Every year we have more than 2,000 tree seedlings to plant in our community.  We have also adopted this as a business venture where we sell some of the seedlings to other organisations who plant in other areas.  What is fascinating is that out of the 30 of us women, each one of us gets to plant at least more than 10 trees every year,” explains Banda, the Chairperson for Muhawi Women’s Club.

Back in January this year, after persistent flooding had left thousands of smallholder farmers homeless, and landless, NASFAM led by the theme “Do your part, plant a tree every year” launched the 2015 tree planting season on 10th January in Zomba district, south of Malawi.  The theme was rolled out to demonstrate the holistic effort that is needed for each citizen to plant a tree every year in their locations. 

The damage to smallholder farmers caused by the floods which occurred in Malawi was shocking and smallholder farmers are encouraged to adopt planting of trees as one good agricultural practice that can enhance their livelihoods.  Through extension services of farmer videos, radio programmes and publications in farmer magazines, farmers are made aware of the importance of preserving forests and in some cases, the little that is left for them so a brighter future and also to become resilient to the shocks that come due to the degradation of forests. 

Every season, the tree planting programme starts with sensitization of farmers on the importance of trees and the need to plant them on a large scale. Community leaders and lead farmers are sensitized and they take a leading role in the whole programme in order to make sure there is local ownership of the trees. Then relevant tree management skills are transferred to the farming community through hands-on training.

Fertilizer trees such as Acacia polyacantha, Faidherbia albida, Senna spectabilis, Senna siamea and Tephrosia spp have all contributed significantly to the restoration of forests adding fertility in degraded soils in addition to the many environmental benefits that are derived from them.

Apart from tree planting, soil health is also prioritized as programmes for smallholder farmers are encouraged to plant leguminous seed such as pigeon peas and groundnuts which restore and replenish soil fertility.  It is believed that through collective efforts, interventions such as these will go a long way in retrieving what has been lost of our forests and how with smallholder farmers, we can move forward in becoming self-productive, food and income secure.

Read more on this topic

Blogpost and picture submitted by: Tamanda Chabvuta (National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), Communications Officer) – etchabvuta(at)gmail.com

Blogpost uploaded by Enricka Julien

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