Farmer Resilience to Climate Variability Key to Sustainable Production

Farmer Resilience to Climate Variability Key to Sustainable Production

Mwakasungula and his wife tilling a plot in readiness for Rice transplanting

By Vincent Nhlema

Farmers are now looking back at the 2021/22 farming season, which faced a number of challenges, with delayed rains standing out for most farmers who depend on rainfed production. Almost the whole country experienced late onset of rains, sending panic to farmers whose livelihoods depend on rainfed production.

Steven Gama, a farmer from Kasungu experienced an unusual season due to high temperatures that affected his crops. His maize crop wilted dried at the start of the season to do dry spells, despite late onset of rains.

Dyna Mangapi from Mulanje, is another farmer who is reeling from the negative effects of climate change. She lost chilli crop right at nursery beds due to prolonged dry spell which meant she could not transplant in the absence of rains. By the time the rains came, the seedlings were beyond the transplanting stage.

These are few of the many examples of how delayed onset of rains affected farmers in the 2012/22 farming season.

The case was however, different for those with alternative source of water. Their production calendar went to plan despite the late onset of rains.

Kenneth Mwakasungula, and his wife, Getrude Mwenefumbo, smallholder farmers operating under the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), from Senior Chief Mwakasungula Village, T/A Kyungu, Karonga, were not worried with the delayed rains. They had an alternative water source for their rice production.

Their story dates back to 2016 when, with support from NASFAM, they sunk some wells after experiencing late onset of rains and drought, affecting their rice farming business.

“Then we were using a gasoline water pump to irrigate a sizeable piece of land, including raising nursery, but it became expensive over time, so we used it sparingly. But some 2 years ago, an opportunity arose to access solar-powered water pumps on loan from the Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development (FISD). We got two sets, each costing about MK1.3 million,” said Mwakasungula. 

Cultivating over a hectare of rice under irrigation needs a considerable amount of time of time for the water to fill the plots adequately, a thing he could not afford using the gasoline water pump. The solar-powered water pump has eased the burden.

“When the rains delayed this season, it did not worry me much. You will notice that in some plots the rice is almost ready for harvest, and this is February, while some farmers who solely depend on rainfall are still transplanting now. Irrigation has made a difference for me.

“With the solar-powered irrigation equipment we now produce more than once a year because the wells have sufficient water throughout the year”, added Mwakasungula.

The assurance of water supply throughout the year has also opened another door for Mwakasungula family. They are among few farmers that have been identified to multiply rice seed in the area.

“My wife and I are among few farmers contracted to multiply basic Kilombero rice seed, to ensure our fellow farmers access quality seed in the coming season. This came about because the Association saw that we have sufficient water supply and equipment to irrigate the crop in the event of drought or delayed rains”, narrated Mwakasungula.

With financial support from the governments of Norway and Ireland, NASFAM trains its members in Climate Change coping mechanisms and urges them to adopt technologies that will enable them cope with increased climate shocks, which have potential to wipe-out smallholder farmer investments.