Without using chemical fertiliser, Jenipher Phiri, 49, of Kauzegalu Village in Kasungu District used to toil in vain in her barren crop field.
She recalls: “Even with favourable rainfall, all the hard work yielded nothing because I couldn’t afford chemical fertiliser.”
Most land in Malawi is degraded, making it hard for 80 percent of the country’s population to yield enough to take them to the next harvest.
Government subsidises fertiliser and improved seed for low-income subsistent farmers.
However, Phiri is among the poor farmers often excluded from the Affordable Inputs Programme.
She harvested five bags of maize from a one-acre field with the potential to produce 60.
“We were haunted by chronic hunger as the harvest could only last four months,” she explains.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, a Malawian farmer in Malawi loses up to 29 tonnes of fertile topsoil per hectare every year.
The UN food agency blames the annual loss on rapid deforestation
Phiri’s family of six was trapped in hunger and poverty. In 2019, Phiri started receiving monthly cash transfers provided by government and its partners to cushion the poor from abject poverty.
She is one of the 15 founding members of Kazama cluster trained by the Community Savings and Investment Promotion (Comsip) in financial literacy and economic empowerment.
The group puts together their savings and give each other soft loans to boost their small businesses.
As a member, I borrow money from the cluster for my farming and fruit businesses to improve my family’s livelihood,” says the mother of four.
This year, the rocketing global fertiliser prices and scarcity threatened Phiri’s yields.
“It was too costly and didn’t make business sense to spend over K300 000 buying fertilisers,” she says.
She turned to manure use.
Phiri is expecting a bumper maize harvest from her field where she applied manure.
“For the first time in my life, I expect to harvest 59 bags,” she says smilingly.
There is a similar sigh of relief in 48 homesteads across four Comsip clusters in Chimpamba and Kauzegalu villages under Mkwachi Comsip Cooperative Society.
They used mbeya manure, by mixing chemical fertiliser with animal droppings, ash and maize bran.
Comsip Co-operative Union’s Social Support for Resilient Livelihood Project funded by the World Bank engaged the farmers in climate-smart agriculture to improve food and nutrition security.
Fertiliser multiplication through mbeya manure production personifies the use of locally available resources to boost crop production. Others include crop diversification as well as soil and watershed management activities.
Phiri says manure use has cut fertiliser budget and improved soil fertility.
“With 10 kilogrammes [kg] of fertiliser, I produced 50kg of mbeya, enough for a half-acre maize field. This assures me of plenty of surplus,” she says.
Another farmer, Annie Mbewe, vows never to revert to chemical fertilisers that does not enhance crop resilience during dry spells and drought.
“Manure increases soil fertility, texture and moisture retention for the good of my crops. I got big and healthier cobs this year,” she states.
The farmers produce 50 kg of mbeya manure by mixing 20 kg maize bran with 20 kg of animal dung, 10 kg of ash and 10 kg of fertiliser.
Edward Kwatani says the product is good for a diversity of crops, including maize, cassava, potato, beans, soybeans and vegetables.
Says Kwatani: “We added these crops to our food baskets, but the improved production has challenged us to take farming as business.
“Proceeds from the crops help us support our families with basic needs easily.”
Kwatani is the facilitator for Mkwachi Comsip Cooperative Society, which now makes mbeya manure production for sale.
“We made K400 000 from 16 bags sold at K25 000 each,” he says.
Kasungu district community development officer Bernard Chanachi says the initiative could be self-sustaining in the push to boost food security and income.
“Climate-smart agriculture is key to sustainable development. Once people have food and money, they develop their homes, areas and the country,” he says:
Comsip environmental and social safeguards officer Febron Mwiba says the State-run project helps rural communities tackle poverty by equipping them with skills to produce more food at low cost.
He explains: “We empower them to build resilience to effects of climate change and run profitable businesses. We are happy with timely introduction of mbeya manure this year when fertiliser was scarce and costly. It saved their money and gave them more yields.”