In Mzimba, few women own land, let alone maize mills. Even men who own grinding mills stand accused of bewitching their relatives to get rich quick.
However, the superstition has been suppressed in Nkhunga Village since Emery Silungwe acquired a diesel-powered mill—by toiling hard come rain or sunshine.
“I started growing soya beans shortly after marrying in 1980. It requires less work than tobacco, which kept me busy from the nursery and wipes out trees to cure the leaf for the international market,” explains the member of Joka Farmers’ Association in Embangweni, Mzimba South.
Soya beans cover half of Nyasilungwe’s six-acre field, with the rest dedicated to maize. Her yield has been on the rise since 2019 when she bought two bulls (used to plough her field) at K250 000 each after planting soya beans in two rows per ridge.
In 2020, she bought the K448 000 maize mill to expand her income sources and liberate women from long walks to produce maize flour.
‘I set lofty goals’
This year, the mother of six bought a motorcycle which her son, Fingani, uses to transport commuters at a fee. The young man, now liberated from the country’s massive youth unemployment, makes at least K7 000 a day.
Nyasilungwe explains: “I plan my life and set lofty goals. Every growing season, I ask myself: What do you want to acquire after harvesting? With good harvests, markets and prices, farmers cannot go wrong.
“For instance, I bought the ox to stop using a hoe which bruises my hands and breaks my back. It costs K20 000 to plough an acre using borrowed cattle. I can make as much after ploughing my field.”
However, it is the grinding mill that has made her famous in Khunga and surrounding villages.
“Gone are the days women used to wake up as early as 4am, with men still in bed, to reach maize mills at Mabiri or Kapopo trading centres before 8am. Some were being raped on the way and others battered by their husbands because we used to return home late, around 1pm”, she says.
Nyasilungwe’s mill saves about nine hours women in her clustered village can use to care for their families, crops, communities and businesses. Even children seldom skip classes to escort their mothers to grind grain.
“For me, this is a social business born to reduce our suffering. Luckily, it brings some K10 000 a day as I charge K500 for every bucketful milled,” she states.
Her son is happy to keep people moving on the area’s rugged roads.
“Before the motorcycle, I was dejected because I didn’t have necessary education and skills for job opportunities that lure my peers to migrate to town. Now, I am self-sufficient; I assist my hardworking parents to fend for the family,” Fingani says.
The family also owns four cows, 20 goats, seven ducks, six sheep and 50 chickens seen on the prowl in their homestead and beyond.
In 2019, she got 50 kilogramme of soya seed from the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (Nasfam) through a revolving seed programme and repaid 100kg. The two 50kg bags were distributed to her colleagues grappling with low yields due to over-recycled seed.
“The new seed from Nasfam is high-yielding and does better when one follows the advice from extension workers,” she shares her secret.
Nyasilungwe is one of about 520 soya beans farmers who plant two lines per ridge in their fields. She is among almost 250 who nourish the legume crop with manure from crop residues mixed with animal waste decomposed in pits watered for two weeks.
This is part of climate smart agriculture techniques promoted by Nasfam with support from Irish Aid.
“I don’t burn crop residues, but fill up to 25 oxcarts for making manure. This way, planting two rows produces twice the harvest from traditional planting methods,” Nyasilungwe says.
In 2020, she made K750 000 after selling her 60 bags of soya at K250 per kg. Despite a prolonged rainy season, she earned the same amount this year after selling her reduced yield at K448 per kg.
Farmer to watch
Lead farmer Oreen Nyirenda, who mentors 70 farmers from seven clubs in Zwangendaba Group Action Centre (GAC), salutes the go-getter for her tenacity.
She says: “Nyasilungwe lives by what she plans to achieve and listens hard when extension workers share high-yielding farming methods.
“Planning reduces the risk of losing the crop to vendors who offer slavish prices and misusing the money instead of focussing on what one really needs.”
And Nyasilungwe dares to dream bigger. “In the next growing season, I plan to buy more cattle and a taxi to diversify my income line,” she brags.