Tackling climate change with local solutions in Malawi

Pilirani Machemba harvesting maize from his garden

16th November 2018:

For many years, farmers in Kankhomba village and surrounding communities in Zomba district have faced the rage of the Namilambe river, washing away their crops, houses and property downstream. The result of climate change and severe deforestation in the surrounding communities, this has made the residents of Kankhomba village and neighbouring communities food insecure.

In 2017, with the support of the World Food Programme (WFP) and cooperating partner World Vision Malawi, the communities were taught how to control the flow of water from the hills and harvest it, as well as how to conserve the environment by planting trees on the hills and along the river banks river.

The farmers, who call themselves ‘Community Champions’, dug deep trenches, built dams and planted vetiver grass – a type of hedge with strong roots that prevents erosion of the land – to control the water speed and stop it from flooding their fields.

Pilirani’s hard work used to be washed away by the river. Now he digs trenches to control the speed of water at the foot of the hills.

“I had always struggled to raise money to buy maize seeds and fertilizers for my garden. It pained me every year when water from the hills washed away my hard work. Thus, I did manual labour almost every day to buy food for my family,” says Pilirani Machemba, a resident of Kankhomba village, married with four children.

“Last year, I harvested only four bags of maize, however, this year (2017/2018 growing season) the crops did really well because my seeds and fertilizers never got washed away. I thus harvested 15 bags of maize,” adds Pilirani excitedly.

“Although we had little rains this year, I used the water we harvested in the deep trenches to irrigate my crop field and vegetable gardens,” says Pilirani.

Six other families have also benefited similarly from the project, doubling their yields in the 2017/2018 growing season. The communities were also trained on how to make compost manure for their fields.

“I made compost manure which I applied to complement fertilizers. This helped me to reduce by half the amount of money I was spending to buy fertilizers. At the same time, the compost manure retains moisture, so that even though we did not have adequate rains this year, my crops did not wilt,” explains Pilirani.

To address deforestation and its impact, WFP supported the ‘Community Champions’ with 25,000 seedlings which they planted around Ulumba hills and along Namilambe river. The trees will in the long-term help reduce siltation on the Namilambe riverbed.

For Pilirani and fellow members of ‘Community Champions’, the skills they have learned through the project will stay with them for the rest of their lives and will be passed on to future generations, thus improving their children’s livelihoods.

“Even if WFP and its partners now leave our community, they have given us a lifetime of skills — they will always be with us, helping to improve our livelihoods forever,” concludes Pilirani.

In 2017, nearly 724,000 people created community-owned productive assets through WFP Malawi’s Food For Assets (FFA). The communities constructed fish ponds, planted trees and sold vegetables from their backyard gardens. These activities helped families to diversify their diet, while allowing them to build resilience for future climatic shocks.