Malawi Farmers Beat Drought With Year-round Farming

Dafter Chiwaya (centre) stands with Henry Tebulo (right) and fellow committee member Peter Njunga beside one of their irrigation canals.

Copyright: WFP/Sarah Rawson

In 2004, WFP implemented a food-for-asset project in Phalombe district in southern Malawi. Ten years later, the farmers who took part in the project are self-sufficient - no longer left high and dry when the weather turns against them. 

Natural disasters, such as prolonged dry spells and flooding, are a leading cause of hunger in Malawi’s southern district of Phalombe. The risk of disaster here has increased due to climate change, environmental degradation and population growth. However, a group of farmers working on the Chakalamba irrigation scheme, started through a WFP food-for-asset (FFA) project, have shown how adapting to a changing climate can reduce risks and provide solutions to hunger.  

Hard work
“Hunger used to hit us badly because we could no longer depend on good rains for successful harvests," says group secretary Dafter Chiwaya. "It was clear the climate was changing. But this changed in 2004 when we took part in WFP’s FFA project.”

In partnership with the Salvation Army, WFP implemented a year-long FFA project in which some 75 community members received maize and peas in exchange for constructing an irrigation scheme with WFP-provided materials.

“Each morning we started digging at 6 o'clock," he says. "We were happy to do the hard work because it was something that we were building for our own future.”

By the project’s end in 2005, the group had finished six dams, a water intake and a distribution system. Today the Chakalamba irrigation scheme reaches over 50 hectares, where 250 members from eight surrounding villages grow maize, beans, cabbage, potatoes and tomatoes. They estimate that, thanks to the scheme, they produce up to 10 tonnes of food each year while, before the project, they could only harvest once a year after the rainy season. It was never enough for their families.

All year round
”This year, WFP provided emergency food assistance in Phalombe district to respond to food shortages experienced by some 100,000 vulnerable people. The farmers of Chakalamba were not among those who needed assistance. 

“During the nine years that we’ve had this scheme, we’ve never received emergency food assistance from WFP," he says. "We now have food all year round.”

The Chakalamba irrigation scheme allows the group to harvest three or four times a year, including during the dry season with water from the Lunguni River filling the their irrigation channels. 

“Last year, the bad rains ruined the crop but, because of the scheme, we were able to cultivate even after the rains,’ explains group chairman Henry Tebulo.

The group has more recently benefitted from support from a government project, which consolidated WFP’s FFA project by providing fertilizer and constructing additional water canals and pipes.

Building on momentum

With higher incomes from increased food production and sales, the farmers have been able to make significant changes to their lives and livelihoods.

“Using the proceeds from irrigation farming, we're able to send our children to school, build strong houses with iron sheets and buy inputs for the next harvest.” 

In 2014, WFP is building on the momentum of past success by implementing more FFA projects in other disaster-prone areas to bring benefits to more farmers and their families.

This is part of WFP’s fight to eliminate hunger, known as the Zero Hunger Challenge, through which WFP is working to ensure that all Malawians have access to a plentiful supply of food - just like the Chakalamba farmers.