Women farmers size up the risks in Malawi

Monday, 17 November 2014 11:58 GMT

A mother and child pose in front of maize harvested in Lilongwe Rural April 22, 2008. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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Climate adaptation programme lets farmers take early action to reduce threats

After the release of the latest IPCC report in Copenhagen, I headed straight to Malawi for a field visit to a project that helps poor communities build resilience to disasters and climate change.

The project - "Ready for Anything" is an initiative of ActionAid and its partners, which is funded by UK people and government. I was joined by a UK government DFID (Department for International Development) official, Alison Batt,  and two ActionAid Malawi colleagues - Ken Matekenya and Blessings Botha. 

I must say that nothing can be more refreshing than being with the people on the ground who are fighting the impacts of climate change day in and day out with their unmatchable spirit, wearing an enviable smile on their face. 

After a brief discussion about the project at the Lilongwe office, we embarked on the road trip to the north of Malawi to Rumphi district, where we have a long term partnership with the Coalition of Women Farmers (COWFA).

The coalition has around 50,000 women farmers as members. It organises women farmers and facilitates market linkages, and promotes interface with other funding opportunities, along with advocating for their issues with the government.

Malawi, a predominantly agrarian economy, is highly vulnerable to climatic shocks and stresses. Therefore, our project is rightly focussed on working with the women smallholder farmers to collectively understand and address the impacts of climate change.

NO PRESCRITIVE SOLUTIONS

ActionAid doesn't believe in prescriptive solutions. It instead empowers people to analyse the challenges they face and find solutions that are based on their traditional knowledge, complimented by modern science and external resources.

We visited three villages and saw a range of activities being carried out in the area. Small irrigation, soil and water conservation, manure making, nursery development, producing energy efficient stoves and so on. Communities are also aware of their rights and how they can enjoy them.

What impressed me most was a sound analysis of risks which vulnerable communities face due to climate change and what causes it. The best part was that the analysis was done collectively by a group and its members took turns in presenting it to us.

This clearly indicates that they are not being spoon fed, but they are fully aware of the risks they face and also know how they can develop the solutions together. 

The project has given a lot of focus to enhancing the technical capacity of the community members. Women farmers know how to measure rain, what it takes to produce good manure and what specifications they must follow to make energy efficient stoves.  This, I think is quite critical to comprehensively fight the negative impacts of climate change.

We must not only know the challenge posed by climate change but also prepare ourselves well to overcome it successfully, especially when no one is fully aware how climate change impacts will unfold in future. 

Batt, of DFID said, "I am impressed by the holistic design of the project and the way it is being implemented with support from the local government and ActionAid partners."

While the team has good rapport with the local government and the project is being implemented in coordination with them, it doesn’t stop communities from analysing the government budget and question them on the expenditure details. 

ENCOURAGING START

The progress of the project thus far is highly encouraging. The challenge though remains of meeting expectations of the community who need more resources to put the emerging plans into reality.

I congratulate ActionAid Malawi for the success of the project that is emerging a good example of how resilience and agriculture programmes can ensure food security in the wake of climate change. 

Lonas Munthali of Khalapamuhanya village, Rumphi district sums it up nicely. Activities like “manure making can help drive hunger and poverty away,” she says, beaming with confidence.

Harjeet Singh is international coordinator for climate adaptation at ActionAid.