Ntchisi — For a long time, Laston Scotch's household located near Sorgin Trading Centre in Traditional Authority Mbenje's area in Nsanje District has been food insecure especially during lean months.
No matter how hard he worked on his one-hectare piece of land, he could not manage to produce enough sorghum, the district's staple food, to take his family to the next growing season.
Not only is sorghum a staple food in the area but it is also an alternative cash crop second from cotton.
Sorghum is drought tolerant making it adaptable to the Shire Valley which has low rainfall pattern and high average temperatures.
For Scotch, being able to have cash to provide for his family's needs was something he never dreamt of; hence his family was staying in a muddy grass thatched house which would leak during rainy season.
"Life was hard for me and my family. We could rely on relief food items from government and Non-Governmental Organisations," he says.
But for Scotch and other farmers in his area, the story is now different as lady luck smiled on them through interventions from the Enhancement of National Agricultural Extension Services (ENAES) project.
The project targets members of Mmango Cluster and Sorgin Mndandanda under Magoti Extension Planning Area in the district.
Its national coordinator Siliro Nkhukuzalira Magomero says the three-year project ran from 2013 to 2016.
"The goal was to achieve food, nutrition and income security at household and national level by increasing production of sorghum and rice among smallholder farmers," Magomero says.
He explains that the project promoted the use of improved technologies, pesticides, inputs such as certified sorghum and rice seeds including basal and top-dressing fertilizer.
"This resulted in increased production of the crops; Pilira 1 sorghum from 330 to an average of above 1,300 kilogrammes while Kilombero rice production increased from 900 to 3,500 kilogrammes per hectare," Magomero says.
He adds that following the success in Nsanje, the project was extended to Salima District in 2017 and will run up to June this year.
The Korea-Africa Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative (KAFACI) is providing technical and financial support to the project.
KAFACI is an initiative from the Rural Development Administration of the Republic of South Korea and it has several projects under it.
One of the projects is the ENAES which is being implemented in other five countries, namely, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Gabon and Ethiopia.
Magomero says the project has so far been working with more than 300 farmers in Malawi.
"The increase in yield coupled with people's livelihoods transforming for the better, necessitated for the project's extension in 2017 to 2019," he says.
Chairperson of the 65-member Magoti Farmers' Cooperative Society in Nsanje Fred Joe attests to the success of the project.
"Previously, I could harvest 250 kilogrammes of sorghum from a one-hectare piece of land but since the coming in of the project, I am able to harvest 2,500 kilogrammes from the same one-hectare piece of land," he says.
Another farmer from Sorgin Mndandanda, David Skova, says their cooperative has 100 hectares where they cultivate sorghum with part of it reserved for seed multiplication.
He says under the seed multiplication component in the first phase of ENAES, they managed to realize a cool K1.2 million.
"We were able to pay school fees for our children, construct modern houses as well as buy livestock, among other household needs," Skova says.
He adds that the farmers decided to form a cooperative to sell their sorghum as one entity at better prices unlike in the past when vendors would rip them off.
The Sorgin Mndandanda's success story led to the birth of Magoti Farmers and Marketing Cooperative Society which is also into sorghum production.
It also led to the birth of yet another group, Mmango, which apart from sorghum, ventured into rice farming at Msengezi Irrigation Scheme in Salima.
For farmers under the Msengezi Rice Scheme, the ENAES project is enabling them realise their potential through increased rice production.
"Previously, we could grow our rice anyhow but with assistance from the project, we have been trained in modern farming which has led to increased production and improved livelihoods," says the group's secretary, Robert Mbaza Phiri.
One of the farmers under the rice scheme Annie Banda says she managed to harvest 2,500 kilogrammes of rice last year from a one-hectare piece of land.
"The yield could have been much higher if it were not for the erratic rains we experienced during the last growing season.
"However, I managed to construct a modern house with iron sheets using money from rice sales which I now let out.
"I use the money from the rentals for my daily needs," Banda says.
Rajabu Malamia is another member of the Msengezi Rice Scheme who praises the project for turning him and others into successful rice farmers.
"Things have changed for the better; last year I managed to produce about 4,000 kilogrammes of rice from a one-hectare piece of land and this year I have extended to three hectares," Malamia says.
Before the project, he says, most of the farmers in the rice scheme could only produce less than 1000 kilogrammes of rice per hectare.
The scheme has a demonstration plot where farmers learn skills on proper rice production and apply them in their respective plots with guidance from the Salima Agricultural Development Office.
The group has plans to turn itself into a cooperative and the farmers have already undergone training in marketing to equip them with proper skills of running a cooperative.
Agricultural Extension Development Coordinator (AEDC) for Katelera EPA, where the rice scheme falls, Lucern Kanamwali says the coming in of the project has changed farmers' mindset to take farming as a business.
"The kilombero rice variety, which the farmers are now growing, is highly marketable, and in June this year, they will start supplying rice to the World Food Programme," he says proudly.
Kanamwali says much as the project has made remarkable success, it is the wish of his office as well as the farmers themselves to extend it to benefit more people.
"There are many more farmers out there who are willing to join the rice scheme and the project's extension would be meaningful as it would contribute to food security in this area," he says.
His sentiments are also shared by Group Village Head M'bobo who is also a member of the Sorgin Mndandanda and Magoti Farmers and Marketing Cooperative Society.
My area has transformed; people are now able to construct modern houses and own livestock because of improved sorghum production courtesy of this project," M'bobo says.