Outreach with Malawi’s Tobacco Farmers

Learning about liquid manure

Learning about liquid manure

Never Ending Food recently received a significant donation from a U.S.-based organization called ‘Commune Wednesdays‘.  This is a group of artists, designers, musicians, and individuals who are concerned about the detrimental impact that the tobacco industry is having on individuals, farmers, families, and nations.  It was requested that this donation money be used in a manner that would have a beneficial impact on tobacco farmers here in Malawi.

We discussed the possibilities with our interns here at Never Ending Food and it was decided that we could use the money to target local tobacco producers.  It was felt that it could be very beneficial  to take these farmers on a series of field visits which would expose them  to new ideas.  Sites were selected based on their ability to demonstrate alternative cash crops and income-generating activities, crop diversification ideas, sustainable land management techniques, and agroecological practices.

Looking at organic production systems

Looking at organic production systems

The interns selected 10 local tobacco farmers, both men and women, and took them on their initial visit to the Kusamala Institute of Agriculture and Ecology, which is a a local, non-governmental organization that promotes household-level permaculture and agroecology systems in Malawi through demonstration, education, outreach and advocacy.  The day focused on sustainable land use, including:  compost making, mulching, liquid manure, intercropping with legumes, crop rotation, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and good water management (including a solar-powered water pump that makes it possible for Kusamala to operate a full-scale commercial organic garden).  They also looked at income diversification through the use of tree and fruit nurseries, animal management, organic vegetable production, and local (open-pollinated) seed saving.  There was an emphasis on nutritional diversification through the integration of polycultural agricultural systems which are able to offer year-round access to foods from all of Malawi’s 6 food groups (staple, vegetable, fruit, animal products, legumes & nuts, and fats).

The second visit was split between Maulana village and Never Ending Food.  Maulana is home to Never Ending Food’s former

Diversified household production

Diversified household production

Permaculture Manager, Luwayo Biswick, as well as our current intern, Kusala Biswick.  Together, these two brothers and their family have been transforming their village into a wonderfully diverse eco-community.  The group was able to see Permaculture designs, composting toilets, polycultural agriculture systems, and the reusing of grey water at the sites of boreholes and washing areas.  At Never Ending Food the group members were also able to take a look various water-harvesting techniques, organic practices, and the integration of hundreds of foods, medicines, fuels, and building supplies into diversified and seasonal systems of agricultural production.

Worm farming at E3

Worm farming at E3

The third visit took the group to visit a group called ‘E3 Worldwide‘.  This is a faith-based organization who has been using principles of Permaculture design to empower local communities.  At this visit, the group saw the use of aquaponics (combining fish farming with vegetable production), animal husbandry (pig rearing), worm farming, composting toilets, water harvesting through swale systems, and diversified perennial food production.

The last visit was to the home of a Lilongwe-based man, Goodfellow Phiri, who specializes in the manufacturing and use of organic manure, compost, and the use of urine.  Urine is loaded with ‘urea’  (the nitrogen component of urine), which is something that many Malawian farmers buy in the commercial form each year to apply to their crops.  Learning how to use organic methods can help local farmers to save money and move away from the use of chemical-based products.

Organic compost making

Organic compost making

We are now in the process of assessing how much of the budget is remaining and are planning some small-scale ‘incentive’ purchases for the farmers from these visits who show the most initiative and behavior change as a result.  These ‘incentive packages’ may be a small set of farming tools, educational resources, or  anything else that serves to encourage activities that are more sustainable, healthy, ecologically friendly, and which help to move farmers away from tobacco and towards a brighter future! We’ll keep you posted.