In the rural village of Manyamula in northwestern Malawi, almost everyone has a small plot of land for farming. Families grow their own food and can sell any extra food to add to the household income. When I've visited Manyamula in the past, people often ask me where I get my food since I don't have a farm. The staple crop is maize, which has harder kernels than sweet corn and is ground, pounded, and then cooked into a polenta-like dish called nsima. Nsima is served at every meal, often with tomatoes, onions, and greens. When people can afford meat, they add chicken or dried fish.
Because people in Manyamula rely on having land to grow their food, it can be a struggle for some young people to get established on their own land. Leaders of long-time SIA Grant Partner Manyamula Community Savings and Investment Promotion Cooperative are concerned that more and more young men are traveling to nearby South Africa to work as informal laborers in the mining and construction industries. This emigration breaks up young families and can be emotionally and physically exhausting. With its role to promote community development, the Cooperative has an interest in keeping these young families together and prospering at home.
Last fall, Spirit in Action helped the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative apply for a grant from Seed Programs International (SPI), which helps farmers around the world gain access to quality seeds. In February, the Cooperative distributed 1,000 packets of vegetable seeds to around fifty farmers in Manyamula. About half of the farmers were between the ages of 18 and 35.
Winkley Mahowe, Executive Director of the Cooperative, reported on their progress. "With high anticipation, farmers are busy working the ground, hoping that the path to a better economy will be possible when the crops mature. In some gardens, crops are about to manure, and sales should start soon, while others are sowing now. Of all the seeds provided, tomatoes do very well in both germination and growth."
Farmers Coming Together
The young farmers have formed a club to use Seed Programs International's seeds and share ideas and experiences. In their one-acre garden plot, these young farmers from Chiswa Village have planted tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, and eggplant. They have constructed a drip irrigation system, placing buckets on a pedestal at one end of the plot. They fill the buckets, and then the water flows through plastic tubes to the holes at each planting station. This system is a significant improvement over the tedious work of hand watering each plant, which is how most farmers in Manyamula do their watering.
Beyond building food security, this young farmers club is also an emotional support system. "These are generally the people that have just pulled out of school and do not have the direction on their own to earn a living," Winkley explains. "Being a member of such a group gives them many advantages. One of the benefits is learning new ideas for facing life challenges."