October 11, 2013

Permaculture and Agroecology: Building Household Demonstrations to Improve Food Security, Livelihoods, and Ecosystems in Malawi

By Chisomo Kamchacha, Evaluation Specialist, Kusamala Institute of Agriculture & Ecology, Malawi

Rhoda lives with her mother and sister near Lilongwe, Malawi, and grows a diverse range of vegetables for consumption and for sale. Selling vegetables is an additional income source for her and it has helped to improve her family’s livelihood. However, through government subsidized programs most farmers in the country depend on expensive farm inputs, such as fertilizers, which do not build the soil structure. Ingrained practices such as clearing and burning residues in their fields, mono-cropping, and heavily sweeping yards contribute to a degraded landscape.

It doesn’t have to be this way; permaculture and agroecology are recognized as ecological approaches that can potentially address food security issues while rehabilitating the landscape. Kusamala Institute of Agriculture and Ecology (Kusamala) is a local, non-governmental organization that promotes household-level permaculture and agroecology systems in Malawi. The organization operates in a setting where 85% of the population consists of rural, predominantly subsistence farmers, and nearly 60% experience year-round food insecurity. Kusamala uses these techniques as a way to “move beyond fertilizer-led ‘green revolution’ techniques and invest in ‘brown and blue revolution’ techniques needed to rebuild the soil fertility and water retention” as advised by the UN Special Rapporteur on his recent visit to Malawi.

In an ongoing project implemented from July 2012 to present, 8 women and 13 men from Kusamala’s staff and one member of their families were trained in permaculture and agroecology, with the intention of each staff member creating and designing a demonstration site at their homes. The project was implemented as a way to address the need to increase household demonstrations and the capacity of Kusamala’s staff. Many of Kusamala’s staff match the profile of our target communities; although they have a consistent income, many live without running water or electricity and are susceptible to food shortages. The project began with funding from The Red Soil Project and the result has been impressive.

Just like Rhoda, other staff members have benefited considerably from the project. Daniel now runs a successful garden around his home in his village. This garden has not only improved food and nutrition security but it has also helped to reduce soil erosion around his home. And by building a productive grey water system behind his bathing shelter, he has also reduced his family’s chances of getting Malaria. Unlike in the past when the water from his shower harbored mosquitoes, today he is using it to grow food. Another innovator, Isaac has added medicinal plants – such Artemisia, Neem, Moringa and Lemongrass – in his gardens.

Kusamala believes that scaling up permaculture can be achieved through coordinating and connecting stakeholders with their landscapes. Starting from July 2013, Kusamala is working in Dowa district targetting about 1500 farming families as a way of up scaling this project.  Through farmer to farmer networks, more villagers will adopt permaculture which will help create landscapes where conserving biodiversity, sustaining productivity and enhancing rural livelihoods are all regarded as high priorities.

For more information on this and other stories of Kusamala, please visit our website: www.kusamala.org or email molly@kusamala.org / chisomo@kusamala.org

Read More:
AAKNET Newsletter Vol 2

Photo credit: Chisomo Kamchacha (Kusama)

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