Global weather and climate patterns have been changing much more than expected in recent years, with theories of global warming and carbon emission being the cause. While developing, unindustrialised countries like Malawi are low contributors to carbon emissions, the impact of subsequent climate change is extensive. Being a country dependent on rain-fed agriculture for food production and export earnings, the erratic weather patterns associated with climate change are having a devastating impact on Malawi.
The onset of first rains in Malawi has generally become later, the distribution of rainfall within the year has also become erratic and the frequency of drought occurrence has increased. This increased variability and unpredictability of rainfall is making adaptation and mitigation a growing challenge from year to year, and is impacting on smallholder productivity and yields.
The majority of Malawi’s rural population relies on firewood for their household cooking requirements due to lack of access or availability of alternatives such as electricity and gas. This is resulting in continued deforestation, putting an ever increasing strain on already dwindling forests. Efforts are needed to find alternative and sustainable sources of fuel.
The Solution – NASFAM’s Interventions
NASFAM is responding to the challenges posed by climate change through interlinked activities that promote environmentally sustainable farming approaches.
- Extension Support for Crop Production and Diversification: NASFAM relies on its extension structure of Clubs, Action Committees and Associations, to deliver services to its members. Each Association has at least one Field Officer who is trained in the latest techniques for effective and environmentally responsible crop production. Techniques include land preparation, planting, crop management, harvest and post-harvest management, In the shadow of climate change, environmental conservation practices such as water harvesting, ridging and contouring, minimum tillage and maximum crop cover are promoted, linked to the Conservation Agriculture Activity. To increase the impact and reach of their technical support, the 70+ Field Officers undertake training of trainers for 1,500 progressive farmers. These Farmer Trainers then pass on the techniques and information to their fellow farmers in a peer-to-peer approach.
- Farming as a Business: To shift smallholder farming from a survival mechanism to a sustainable livelihood, NASFAM has introduced members to the concept of “Farming as a Business” which underpins all NASFAM programmes, and is delivered through the Extension Network. The concept consolidates training in the principles involved in farming as a business, including planning, financial management and gross margin analyses so that they know the most profitable crops to plant. In addition awareness is increased of the cross-cutting issues that impact on business potential, such as climate change, environmental management, gender inequality, HIV and AIDS.
- NASFAM Radio Programmes: NASFAM produces a twice-weekly 30 minute radio programme, aired nationwide on MBC1 which is used to provide members and the broader community with topical features on climate change and the need for conservation agriculture approaches.
- Monitoring and Evaluation: To ensure accountability and efficiency of programme management, NASFAM invests in a robust monitoring and evaluation package which is designed to report outputs and results from activities and projects, as well as evaluating the ultimate impact of these interventions on members lives and livelihoods. The M&E strategy is therefore able to inform future programme development based, on lessons learned.
- Conservation Agriculture: Given the increasing impact of climate change and environmental degradation on smallholder farming, NASFAM is promoting the use of conservation agriculture approaches as sustainable and organic ways to increase productivity. It involves use of minimum tillage, maximum soil cover, crop rotation and multi-cropping to prevent water and nutrient loss. Production and use of organic compost from crop and vegetable waste helps to bind the soil, reducing soil erosion, and reduces dependence on expensive inorganic fertiliser. Techniques are low-cost and low-input, making them both accessible and appropriate to all smallholders, but in particular vulnerable households and those directly impacted by HIV and AIDS.
- Energy Saving Initiatives: In response to the call for mitigation of deforestation, NASFAM is promoting technologies such as clay stoves that use 60% less wood to produce the required energy for cooking. In addition, NASFAM is utilising waste products from the mechanised groundnut shelling process, to produce briquettes that can be used as charcoal substitutes.