Feature: CZ disaster-hit households find solace in CRI – Capital Radio Malawi
17 July, 2024

Feature: CZ disaster-hit households find solace in CRI

Sintchaya (Far Right) dances together with her fellow club members, happy with the year's harvest

At the age of 84, Veronica Sintchaya has a deceiving gait and agility of a 50-year-old. She’s a retired teacher, having bidden farewell to chalk, board, and duster in 1996, three years after she lost her husband in 1993.

Upon retirement, Sintchaya went to settle at her home village, Chimpesa, Group Village Headman Kumitete, Traditional Authority Onga, Chiradzulu, where she’s a member of a small scale farmers’ club called Nthambi.

During a recent media visit, the octogenarian’s shared secret to her enviable fitness, even at 84: “A balanced diet, comprising the six food groups and, most importantly, a ‘decent’ breakfast in form of porridge.”

But during the 2023 consumption year, Sintchaya did not have the luxury of having as much balanced meals, and as much ‘decent’ breakfasts due to Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which eroded the old woman’s cropland away and left her with too little to live on.

“It was one of the worst disasters I’ve ever witnessed,” explained Sintchaya. “Most of our crop fields were washed away just a couple of weeks ahead of harvesting period.”

The senior citizen was not alone in this predicament; scores of people in her village, and Chiradzulu as a whole, suffered the same blow and they were left with very little, or nothing at all, for their survival.

But this 2024 consumption season, Sintchaya, like many others in her club, is among thousands of smallholder farmers in the district who have beaten the El Nino odds and they have harvested enough maize to get them beyond the next consumption year.

The old woman, alone, has yielded 20 bags of the staple grain, including yellow maize, and she is happy to have restored her favourite breakfast back on the daily menu.

All this abundance is courtesy of Crisis Response Initiative (CRI), a one-year window that the government of Malawi successfully created in 2023 with funds from the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD).

The project is initially aimed to support 73,850 rural farmers (among them 50 percent women, and 25 percent youth) that were highly affected by the Tropical Cyclone Freddy in three Sustainable Agriculture Production Programme (SAPP) districts of Blantyre, Balaka, and Chiradzulu.

According to the project’s documents, IFAD pumped US$5.06m (MK8.68bn) into CRI to complement government’s effort of ensuring that the targeted rural farmers are able to access inorganic fertilizer through the Affordable Input Programme (AIP).

The development saw the identification and formation of clubs in the affected areas through the Ministry of Agriculture structures, for them (clubs) to access fertilizer, seed (maize, soybean, and maize), and livestock (goats, chickens and rabbits), depending on assessment of individual club members’ needs.

The 20-member Nthambi Club got six bags of fertilizer (three NPK and three Urea), and 100kg of maize seed, including thikinya (yellow maize).

Since the fertilizer was not enough for the 20 members, with the help of Martha Sitolo, Agricultural Extension Development Officer (AEDO) for Thumbwe Extension Planning Area (EPA) under which the Nthambi Club falls, the club produced more bags of organic fertilizer popularly known as Mbeya.

“From the three bags of NPK, and the three bags of Urea, we produced 15 bags of NPK, and 15 bags of Urea, and we shared amongst ourselves such that each member got 35kg of each type of fertilizer,” explained the youngest member of the club, Chimwemwe Bakali, 23.

Like Sintchaya, the oldest member of Club, Bakali, a form 3 student at Masalani Community Day Secondary School in the area, has, this 2024 consumption season, harvested 20 bags of maize from a 0.5ha piece of land using the Mbeya fertilizer.

“I’m very excited with my harvest,” explains Bakali, who had been left to look after a family home and siblings in 2023 as the parents were residing in Blantyre where they were working.

“Before the Cyclone, I used to get a maximum of 15 bags from the family’s total cropland, most of which was affected by Cyclone Freddy. After the cyclone, last year, our yield dropped to less than 5 bags, but with the use of Mbeya this year, I’ve harvested 20 bags of maize, just on a 0.5ha piece of land!”

Such stories of success are also shared by the rest of the members of Nthambi Club, including the chairperson, Rhoda Kazembe, who also speaks highly of the Mbeya fertilizer and accompanying new technologies that the AEDO, Martha Sitolo, equipped them with.

Elsewhere, within Thumbwe EPA in Chikamgwere Village, GVH Kumitete, TA Onga, members of another club, Mlambe, have all the reasons to stand and walk tall as the groundnut seed they received from the CRI project has promised a good harvest.

According to the AEDO, every member was given 30kg of groundnut seed which can give each one of them at least nine bags of shelled groundnuts.

One such happy members of Thumbwe Club is Maria Yakobe who is expecting to get not less than 10 bags of shelled groundnuts from her 0.3ha piece of land.

“The 10 bags of shelled groundnuts will give me a lot of money, enough to enable me buy a number of bags of fertilizer and multiply it using the Mbeya method, and make a kill of a harvest next year,” Yakobe outlines her plans.

Some clubs under Thumbwe EPA received goats while some got chickens in a pass-on program to reach out to as many rural farmers, who were affected by Cyclone Freddy, as possible.

According to the Sitolo, the clubs are all doing fine and the benefits of the CRI project are in plain sight for all to see.

“We are also training the club members to go into loans and savings practice so that, come next growing season, they should be able to buy more fertilizer and other related inputs with the proceeds from the savings,” explained the AEDO.

According to Director of Agriculture Services (DAS) for Chiradzulu district council, Cyclone Freddy washed away 14,000ha of the district’s 50,000ha cropland; thousands of livestock; property and lives.

Over 3,000 hard-hit households from the district’s three EPAs; Thundwe, Mombezi, and Mbulumbuzi, were identified to participate in the CRI project, and they have all registered success in their various interventions – be it livestock, or crops, according to Zingeni.

“The households that are participating in CRI’s various interventions are doing fine,” explained Zingeni. “For instance, we are expecting a yield of 4,000MT of maize from CRI participating households – that is on top of the estimated 30,000MT of maize that we are expecting from the district as a whole,” he added.

Within the additional 4,000 MT of maize that CRI households will contribute to the district’s grain stock is the 1MT (twenty 50kg-bags) for the 84-year-old Sitnchaya, the oldest member for Nthambi Club.

Perhaps, the little contribution – yet huge at individual level – explains the excitement that Sitchaya displsyed on the day the media team visited the Club,

“I’m short of words: With my plentiful thikinya stock, I’m able to take my breakfast porridge every day, and this has also improved my sight!” explained the senior citizen of Chimpesa Village.

“Cyclone Freddy left us in dilemma, but CRI has rescued us: the new task that we have, now, is to consume the food that the project has heaped on us!” said the old woman lightly, her face awash with joy.

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