When Malawi starts thinking climate change

To avert effects of land degradation that farmers face, government has organised a two-day third Biennial Conservation Agriculture Symposium and the first Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) Forum. The symposium runs from 24-25 March in Blantyre. The Nation explores the significance of the symposium
Currently, some of the people that practise climate smart agriculture (CSA) hail the model as the best way of dealing with perennial hunger in the country. One of such farmers practising the farming model is Alice Kachere, a Lilongwe-based farmer, who is also a member of Nasfam.

Malawi farmers need to adopt smart agriculture in the face of climate change
Malawi farmers need to adopt smart agriculture in the face of climate change

When Kachere ventured into the conservation farming and CSA, she could not believe its fruits. Previously, Kachere could not afford a decent life, and fending for her children and other family members was a challenge.
“I lacked food, clothes, school fees for my children. I lived in a house made of mud. It was terrible during the rainy season as my grass-thatched house would leak,” says Kachere.
She never took farming as a tool that could transform her life for good.
“Poor rainfall pattern contributed to my failure to regard farming as business,” she said, adding that her land is not fertile enough to warrant good agricultural production.
Like Kachere, Ines Malemia, a mother of three and member of the Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM), is also into conservation farming. She wants government to champion conservation agriculture and CSA.
“I have 30 hectares of land in Mdeka, Blantyre where I grow pigeon peas. The land is friendly to such a crop, unlike maize and beans,” says Malemia.
Smart agriculture could double the crop's yield
Smart agriculture could double the crop’s yield

Since Malawi is reeling from floods, which according to President Peter Mutharika, will lead to hunger this year, people such as Malemia and Kachere feel that CSA and conservation agriculture could provide a solution to affected families by planting crops such as rice and sweet potatoes.
To some extent, this year’s floods have damaged the reputation of the Farm Input Fertiliser Subsidy Programme (Fisp). Government says K25 billion is required for the affected families’ lives to return to normal.
This symposium is a holistic approach to agricultural production, based on enhancing natural soil biological regeneration processes involving improved soil organic matter management for the efficient use of precipitation, soil moisture and plant nutrients.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development,through the Department of Land Resources Conservation, has organised the event under the theme ‘Scaling up Conservation Agriculture for Resilient Agriculture Systems’.
In a statement published in the local media, which called for paper proposals, government said such findings would be incorporated into sustainable land and water management investments to build resilience in agricultural systems in line with the theme of the conference.
“The symposium is a research, development-oriented and interdisciplinary conference. It seeks to provide a platform for research and development stakeholders to network, share experiences and lessons towards enhanced capacity for innovation systems approach,” the statement reads in part.
Through the statement, drafters of the meeting say such systems are expected to result in biophysical, socio-economic, institutional and policy impacts for agricultural and socioeconomic development in Malawi, a country whose economy is dependent on agriculture.
In fact, the 2015 CA Symposium and first CSA Forum, which was initially planned to be held in December 2014, but postponed to March 2015, was jointly organised by the National Conservation Agriculture Task Force (NCATF) and the Department of Land Resources Conservation in collaboration with stakeholders and development partners who support the task force.
Nepad through TerrAfrica and Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (Caadp) are advocating sustainable land and water management (SLWM) to maximise agricultural production.
At a recent Caadp Africa Forum, various speakers supported the model, saying conservation agriculture restores, sustains and enhances agricultural production through integrated management of soil, water, and biological resources, combined as required with cost-effective use of external inputs.
Research done by Nepad shows that climate change effects are becoming more frequent and more severe, threatening the reliability and productivity of agriculture, exacerbating already extreme levels of poverty, and reinforcing persistent inequity and chronic under-nutrition.
Researchers, however, said the challenge can be avoided through widespread adoption of more resilient, productive, sustainable, equitable and increasingly efficient farming practices. It remains the view of various agriculture organisations that if more produce is harvested, farmers would export surplus products since most African economies are agro-based.
Nepad head of programmes Estherine Fotabong recently asked African leaders to reaffirm ending hunger and poverty by 2025 and also enhance resilience and livelihood and productive systems to climate vulnerability.
Since the majority of Malawians want the CA and CSA model adopted and implemented nationally, the theme according to drafters of the symposium, aims at encouraging farmers to sustainably produce crops for food and industrial use in the face of land degradation, climate change, population growth and changing labour demography requires innovative production systems that build resilient agricultural systems.
Keynote addresses, poster and theatre presentations will be used to facilitate dialogue along six sub– themes on issues that impact the development and scale up of conservation agriculture during the meetings.
In addition, a farmers’ forum is being arranged to host a panel discussion with farmers selected by partner institutions of the NCATF to interact with the symposium delegates.
Currently, full papers with abstracts of original research, case studies, and poster papers have been submitted to the conservation agriculture symposium committee.

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