The bleating of goats in the bushy wetland along Lisito River in Kasungu illustrates farmers’ rising passion to reap maximum benefits from livestock.
Six of the animals seen grazing on the riverbank belong to Agnes Chipatangwe Banda, 61.
Her trip started with a single goat from the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (Nasfam) with support from Irish Aid. The animals donated to help farmers overcome hunger and poverty worsened by climate change have become handy in Banda’s everyday life.
“When mine gave birth, I passed the kid on to my friend as required by the agreement we made at the onset. Now I have six goats. However, the first motivated me to buy some more using earnings from soya and maize,” she says.
Banda has raised four children single-handedly since 2005 when she separated from her husband.
“When the going gets tough, I sell a goat to buy food and meet other pressing needs,” she says.
So far, she has sold seven, including three offspring of the one she received from Nasfam.
“I sold three kids, two at K15 000 and one at K12 000. The bigger ones went at K15 000 to K20 000.
Thanks to the sale, the woman pays fees for her daughter, Yvonne, at Malingunde Secondary School in Lilongwe.
“I don’t want her to marry young like many girls in the vicinity, but to remain in school until her dreams come true,” she says.
Banda believes keeping girls in school will reduce widespread child marriages in Malawi.
According to the 2018 census, nearly half of Malawian women marry before their 18th birthday—the minimum marriageable age.
“In school, girls and boys spend more time gaining knowledge and skills they need to walk out of poverty instead of engaging in risky sexual activities that fuel early pregnancies and marriages as well as poverty,” she says.
Banda also added corrugated iron sheets and a concrete floor to her house.
“I am remaining with six goats because I sold some to secure my daughter’s future and improve the house, which had a muddy floor and a grass thatch that used to leak as if we were sleeping in the open,” explains Banda, now pushing harder to buy a dairy cow.
Lingalirani Phiri, 85, harbours similar aspirations. The octogenarian father of one, who has 15 grandchildren, is one of five farmers in Banda’s club who received a goat each and relayed the first kids to five others. He passed the kid to Rhoda Nkhata, but now has a herd of six.
“I will only sell one in tough times, especially to buy fertiliser as the price of a 50kg bag has jumped from K30 000 to about K40 000. That’s too costly,” he says.
He feels lucky that the goats give him manure which does not only reduce the amount of fertiliser he requires but revitalise the barren soils in his 42-acre farm formerly a tobacco estate.
“With manure, the maize and soya look healthy and yields grow. The field looks green, not yellowish or scorched because manure releases the nutrients crops need and holds soil moisture for longer,” he says.
In April, the farmer summed up a growing season to remember when he harvested 50 bags of maize from a four-acre field where he used to reap 20 to 25.
He attributes the 2.2-tonne yield to manure produced by mixing five kilogrammes of chemical fertiliser with a bucketful of ash, maize bran and animal waste, commonly known as Mbeya fertiliser.
“I only had a chicken when I received the first goat, but now I dream of owning a cow and a car as crop yields are promising, despite erratic rains which often disappear at a critical stage. In 2021, we had no rain for three weeks from January to February just when maize was tasselling,” he says.
Banda, who now harvests 30 bags from an acre that formerly produced 11, knows the difference upgrading to cattle would bring into her life.
“I dream of owning a dairy cow because if I had one, I will be selling milk in the neighbourhood and surrounding markets and use the profits to buy a taxi so I don’t have to only rely on crops for food and money. Crops are yielding less and less with climate change.”