Ten years ago, 158 farmers, men and women, from Chigonele Village Traditional Authority Nankumba in Mangochi started a scheme, which they named Chiwole. The scheme did not promise much but the members had hope.
“We started in 2008 after government’s extension workers orientated us on the benefits of having a scheme. We started off and mainly we were planting maize and the profits were not that attractive which made some members to fall off and only 60 remained by 2014,” narrates Simon John the chairman of the scheme.
Although the future at the scheme was uncertain but John and the remnant farmers worked very hard and today Chiwole Scheme is a center of attraction in Malawi in as far as farming is concerned.
The 25 hectares piece of land has been turned into a food basket feeding many households and it is transforming the livelihood of many.
John recalls how working with Malawi Lake Basin Programme (MLBP) has turned the tables for better.
“In 2014 Malawi Lake Basin Programme came and recommended us for starting a scheme. MLBP then started training us on good farming practices like inter cropping and also, they were offering advice on what crops to grow.
“Apart from that MLBP offered us orange fleshed sweet potatoes vines, a variety of vegetable seeds and treadle pumps,” John said.
He said following MLBP intervention, new lease of life has been the order of the day as the scheme is able to produce a lot of sweet potatoes, vegetables and maize which the farmers are using for consumption as well as commercial benefits.
John boast of building a house which he said will be finalize during the 2018 growing seasons.
“My house is in the final stages. I plan to finalize it this year. Normally we grow three times a year and from each harvest I am able to make over K1 million as an individual,” he said.
At Chiwole Scheme members are allocated about an acre each to manage after paying a membership fee of K700. But some who are willing get more than four plots each.
However, John said this year the membership fee will be adjusted upwards to K1000.
The membership money and other money they do raise as a scheme is used to improve and promote the schemes activities.
“We do a lot of work at this scheme. We dig wells, we prepare nurseries. All this is done in collaboration as a team,” he said adding that members are also encouraged to join the scheme as families as the arrangement has worked wonders.
John is an example of how couples and other farmers working together at the scheme have become. His wife Joyce is also a member of the scheme and together they work at the scheme and plan their lives together.
Joyce said it was her husband who joined the scheme first.
“My husband asked me to join the scheme. He told me that he was advised on the importance of working together with his family. And in deed things have improved. We are able to send children to school and we have enough nutritious food for our family. We are mainly practicing fleshed sweet potatoes multiplication,” she said.
Joyce said the expertise they get through MLBP has helped her embrace other farming technologies that are reducing the climate change effects.
“The climate has changed and sometimes we experience pests. But more often we don’t have enough rains or the wells we have dry up. As a scheme that is no longer an issue because we have been told to practice Conservation Agriculture which helps the soil to be moist for a longer time. We also plant drought and pest resistant plants. On top of that MLBP constructed a seepage well for us which we use to water our nurseries when we don’t have the rains,” Joyce said.
The success stories at Chiwole have triggered an increase in membership from 60 in 2014 to 120 in 2017. But there is a possibility that the membership will grow to above 160 in the year 2018 according to the Scheme’s treasurer Louis Tonthola.
Just like Simon and Joyce, Tonthola together with his wife work at the scheme as well. Tonthola said from the same land he used to farm before MLBP intervention, he is now able to double or triple his yields.
“As a family we are able to support each other and plan together. It is totally different because two heads are better than one. We now have a good house which has electricity, food is not a problem and our children go to school. It is likely that more farmers will join the scheme this year. Some have already registered and from the inquiries we are getting from those interested to join, we are expecting over 160 members,” he said.
Chiwole scheme is also a beneficiary of livestock pass on programme MLBP is implementing.
MLBP is a sustainable rural livelihood improvement program implemented in Malawi since 2006. It is implemented as a consortium of three Malawian member-based organizations; National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), Malawi Union of Savings and Credit Cooperatives (MUSCCO), and Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM); and two International Non-Governmental Organizations; We Effect, and Vi-Agroforestry.
BY TIWONGE KAMPONDENI