Maureen Spreads Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Malawi

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Maureen Phiri was born in 1986 in the Msenga community in Malawi’s Kasungu district. In 2010, she married Fletcher Joshua and she now has three children. However, Maureen is not only a wife and mother. In 2013, Maureen was elected by the members of her community to serve as their Farmer to Farmer Trainer (FFT).

As an FFT, Maureen is responsible for helping support the activities of Pathways Malawi. Pathways Malawi is a CARE program supported by the Margret Ann Cargill Foundation (MACF), which focuses on the empowerment of rural women in Kasungu and Dowa districts, enhancing resilience in agricultural production, and improving the adaptive capacity of producer group members to the effects of climate change. As a part of this program, Pathways conducted a Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (CVCA) in sites that were implementing MACF activities. The CVCA was designed to understand the challenges faced by communities in order to promote sustainable agricultural practices that address specific context-specific challenges. Following the CVCA, it was noted that Msenga and surrounding communities were greatly affected by climate change. Low yields, soil degradation, soil erosion, erratic rainfall and scarcity of water were among the challenges faced in this community.

In response to these results, Msenga community made an action plan to address these challenges. The community proposed activities that would be sustainable as they do their day-to-day farming activities. Among the proposed activities were promotion of soil fertility improvement activities and soil and water conservation activities.

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To achieve these objectives, Pathways Malawi spent a week training a team of FFTs in sustainable agricultural practices. Following the training, the FFTs began to implement what they had learned. Maureen introduced her community to conservation agricultural, agroforestry, and soil and water conservation structures in order to address the challenges they were facing. Msenga community initiated a demonstration plot where Maureen’s producer group members could learn sustainable agricultural practices and then implement these practices in their own fields. Maureen supports four producer groups with 60 women and 3 men who participate in the learning activities through Farmer Fields and Business School (FFBS). Through FFBs, farmers learn by doing and almost all the sixty farmers in Msenga now enjoy the benefits of conservation agriculture.

In the 2015-2016 year, rain only fell a few times and dry spells lasted many days. Because of the low rainfall, many farmers’ crops are doing poorly. In many fields, the crops have scorched by the sun. However, in the fields that are practicing the conservation agriculture taught in the FBBS, the crop is growing well despite the  dry spell.

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In addition to conservation agriculture and agroforestry, Maureen is also teaching producer group members how to raise tree seedlings to help arrest of the effects of climate change. All sixty members have participated in the demonstration and they have raised 3,700 acacia and senna tree seedlings planted in February 2016. Each member received a startup of 60 tree seedlings.

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Maureen’s ongoing work with her FFBS group would not be possible without supportive members of her community. “The enabling environment created by the husbands makes it possible for me to move around and support the producer group members,” Maureen said.

Contributed by: By Charles Mkangara, Pathways Agriculture Advisor