Farmers coping with climate change

 

In February, while snow still settled on Canadian streets, Debora Kantor was experiencing heat and downpours in Malawi’s rural farmlands, listening to songs about nutrition and sampling sweet potato doughnuts.

The family ministry co-ordinator at the Parish of Cambridge and Waterborough in the Diocese of Fredericton took part in a learning tour organised by Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) from February 1 to 17. They visited three food security projects in Malawi.

Rabi Gondwe and her husband, Amua Ndovi, discuss their food security project with participants of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank learning tour in Kapambwafu Village, Malawi

She says she is interested in how climate change is affecting the developing world and in nutrition, the very issues CFGB projects are tackling in Malawi.

About 80 percent of Malawians live in rural areas, with most people relying on subsistence farming for survival. Due to this, livelihoods in Malawi have been hit hard by climate change.

According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAid), the country is particularly susceptible to negative consequences “due to high population growth, rapid deforestation and widespread soil erosion”.

Growing seasons have become shorter, Kantor says, with increased flooding and droughts.

Her group visited the Malawi Farmer-to-Farmer Agro-Ecology (Maffa), a project supported by CFGB’s partner, Presbyterian World Service and Development.

The project teaches farmers planting techniques, including crop rotation, cover crops and intercropping, to lessen the effects of climate change.

Kantor says the communities had a strong sense of hope.

“Even though the climate was changing, they had hope that now they could cope. They would be able to feed their families.”

The project also teaches subsistence farmers ways to incorporate enhanced nutrition into daily diets. Malawians predominantly eat nsima, a meal made of white maize flour.

The project encourages switching to yellow corn, which is said to have higher vitamin A content.

Nutrition training includes sharing new recipes, from sweet potato doughnuts to freshly made soya milk.

All the teaching is done by local farmers.

“I was thoroughly impressed with the fact that they’re working with established organisations on the ground,” says Kantor.

Women not only prepare the food, they are heavily involved with farming.

The three projects her group visited also provide training on gender equality and rights to land, which is ultimately linked to food security, says CFGB public engagement co-ordinator James Kornelsen.

“If women don’t have a title to the land or if they don’t have access to agricultural support…then it becomes a problem for the whole household. She’s the avenue for household food security,” he says.

CFGB defines food security as “all people having regular access to enough nutritious food to lead healthy and active lives”.

It stresses the importance of getting not just adequate food, but quality nutrition for entire communities.

Kantor recalls that one farmer involved with a CFGB-affiliated project in Karonga, when asked what he thought of the gender training, said that he used to do so-called “women’s work”—such as washing the dishes—behind the house, where no one could see.

“If men were seen doing women’s work, they were made fun of,” says Kantor. “After completing the gender training, she said: ‘Now I am a free man.’”

One woman told Kantor: “Now I feel married again.”

She and her husband now work the fields together and decide together what they would be planting.

Since the trip, Kantor has given talks on what she learned in Malawi and written to her member of Parliament to ask that Canada increase its foreign aid contribution to the UN-recommended 0.7% of gross national income.

“I feel now that I’m more informed and able to inform other people,” she says.

The CFGB is a partnership of Canadian churches and church-based agencies, including the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the relief and development agency of the Anglican Church of Canada.

As an organic gardener herself, Kantor says she hopes to start a growing project with youth in her community that will help support PWRDF and CFGB projects.

She knows the struggle of depending on weather.

“I didn’t get any rain last year,” she recalls, noting that her neighbour’s yield was down 30 percent.

But, she says: “I have other means to get food”—subsistence farmers in Malawi don’t. They’re dependent completely on what comes out of that ground.” n

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