In 2010, 1.2 million people in Malawi had no access to food, according to a food insecurity report by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee.
Responding, the 10 members of the Malawi ACT Forum with support from the Norwegian embassy launched a food security programme in the six districts of Karonga, Rumphi, Balaka, Thyolo, Nsanje and Chikhwawa. Working together the forum received funding of 10 million Norwegian Kroner
(approximately US $1.7 million) to implement the programme from November 2010 to September 2011, targeting 17,000 households.
The programme aimed to improve and enhance nutrition, as well as skills within farming households through a variety of livelihood options for those impacted by drought and floods. Activities included small scale and solar irrigation farming, provision of livestock, food-for-work activities, food distribution, crop diversification and conservation farming programmes, and rehabilitation of nutritional clinics and feeding centres for children under five.
While the irrigation aspect of the project was put in place primarily to bridge the gap between the planting season (September 2010) and harvest time (March 2011), the project has continued benefiting communities through the solar systems installed. Using treadle pumps and solar systems has greatly improved time efficiency around irrigation activities. Also, the amount of irrigable land has grown as those within the project can now afford alternatives to hand-held watering cans.
Today, the project is considering innovations that add more value, such as access to loans and markets. Women carrying water on their heads while walking in Dofu, an area in northern Malawi which has been hit hard by drought and hunger.
Ephraim Mathara, 57, a pastor and farmer at the Makande solar irrigation scheme, has realised significant profits since using solar powered energy for pumping irrigation water. Today he lives in a three-bedroomed burnt brick house roofed with iron sheets, and is now planning to cement the floor. He is able to pay the school fees for his son who is at a private secondary school.
The sale of green maize and vegetables has boosted the incomes of participating farmers. Most now have assets such as livestock, radios, mobile phones and iron sheets. Realising the benefits of the project, and through the capacity building initiatives the project has facilitated, farmers are becoming more organised. Through the food-for-work activities, communities have rehabilitated feeder roads and other services such as school blocks, so improving people’s welfare.
Edward Chizimba, 55, is also a farmer at the Makande solar irrigation scheme. He is married with six children and joined the scheme in 2000 when diesel use was the norm. He said: “I was not making profits because I was using a lot of money for diesel – about 50 to 60 litres for my plants to reach maturity. Life was hard then. Vendors were buying from us at a cheaper price. But since 2010 we are getting enough
profits. I have now been able buy a cow, pigs, construct an iron sheet-roofed house and I am in a position to pay [school] fees for my children.”