Farmers in Malawi Celebrate Their Independence

As we celebrate the 4th of July in the US, a group of farmers in the Tigwirizane Farmer’s Field and Business School are celebrating their independence, too.  They have written a constitution, set up some new committees, and have a few songs to celebrate their achievement.  For them, independence isn’t about creating a new national government, it’s about finding the skills and techniques that will help them stand on their own as farmers and as business people.

Usually, when I think of what CARE programs change for people, I don’t think about their independence.  We tend to talk in terms of the amount of food grown, the number of children who are malnourished, and the income people can earn.  Those are all important metrics, and even communities will tell you how they see changes in their children’s health, how they have earned more money and send their children to school, and how they are able to grow more food.  But the comments that surprised me the most in Malawi were about how Pathways is making them independent.  Everyone values the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and people in Tigwirizane told me how learning new skills has made them independent.

Boston Dzonzi told us how now he is able to measure the size of his field all by himself, using a technique that CARE taught him and some basic arithmetic.  It seems like a small thing, but in a place where tape measures, ropes, surveying equipment, and even simple math skills are in short supply, being able to say how big your field is matters.  Boston is thrilled because now he doesn’t have to wait for a government extension worker to come measure his field.  That means he can buy the right number of seeds—which cuts his costs by 60-80%–and he can buy them on time to plant so he doesn’t miss the growing season.  Planting on time is the difference between having food and not.  A little math, and Boston is now independent.

Jenifa Basiko feels more independent because the marketing committee of the Farmer’s Field and Business School can now decide what price will be profitable for them, and use market information to figure out the best time to sell.  They are no longer dependent on buyers coming and setting low prices immediately after the harvest.  Instead of just taking any price offered, Jenifa and her colleagues are able to negotiate—and earn a much higher profit.

Just like the Founding Fathers, this group celebrate their independence by writing down a constitution—one that guarantees women and men can participate equally, and ensures that they have ways to solve any problems that come up.  They have also committed to spreading the word on the new lessons the have learned, so that they can share their independence with the rest of their community.

– Contributed by Emily Janoch