Farmers call for local and global action as a robust response to the threat of climate change

15 November 2022

We are delighted to share this guest post by SMP member Scottish Fair Trade Forum. The post offers key updates on the brilliant Scottish Government funded CROPS project, including many quotes from Malawian farmers involved. The project is run by fellow SMP member, The Challenges Group.

An agribusiness project has been taking a holistic approach to agriculture, implementing climate smart practices in four districts in Malawi with great success.

Over 6,200 rural farmers in the districts of Nkhotakota, Salima, Machinga and Chikwawa have improved their livelihoods working with a project called ‘Creating Robust Opportunities for Crop Production and Sale’ (CROPS), which began in October 2018. The community-led project, funded by the Scottish Government will by 2023 have increased the household incomes of the rural farmers in the 4 districts by 10%.

Phillip Chidawati, Project Manager, Challenges Malawi commented:

“The project has been promoting sustainable farming systems and resilient agricultural practices to increase crop productivity and strengthen farmers’ capacity for adaptation to climate change shocks and progressively increase soil fertility. This has resulted in 60% increase in crop productivity and subsequent crop sales revenue for farmers involved in the project”.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations sets out the three aims of climate smart agriculture as a sustainable increase in productivity and income, adapting and building resilience to climate change, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions where possible.

From the outset, the CROPS Project’s focus has been on sustainable economic growth and sustainable agriculture. Following practices promoted by the project through Project Agriculture Extension Officers, the project farmers have seen the results on the ground for themselves.

In adapting and building resilience to climate change and the associated erratic weather, several measures have been adopted, including the efficient use of water through the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), along with intermittent irrigation. Crop diversification and rotation aid with soil health; planting drought tolerant crops such as cassava offer a buffer during extended dry periods; the use of cover crops improve soil health, and absorb carbon among other benefits. In addition, the practices of planting vetiver grass, contour band construction and the construction of dykes are employed to control soil erosion and the impacts of flooding.

Solofina Batumeyo, a female farmer from Machinga District said:

“I used to harvest 7 bags of rice only from my 0.1 Ha plot before the project, and generated very low income from the sales. But now, through the technologies taught by Agriculture Extension Officers, such as organic fertiliser and SRI, I now harvest 13 bags from the same plot and generate a sales revenue of over £520 which is improving our livelihoods as we have adequate money to buy food, pay for school fees and medical costs”.

There’s one particular practice encouraged by the project that stands out though - the use of bio-fertiliser as an alternative to chemical fertiliser. With chemical fertiliser prices having increased by 300% in the last 12 months, along with the increase in productivity, yield and soil health from the use of organic manure, farmers have seen for themselves how this climate smart practice makes a difference.

Mr James Makhuva, one of the farmers benefiting from organic fertiliser, said:

“One of the greatest concentrates in tomato production is the high cost of fertiliser which inhibited me to produce more. But when I saw Kachingwe Banda’s (organic fertiliser entrepreneur) organic fertiliser demonstration plot, I was persuaded to try his fertiliser for my tomato production. Because it is more affordable than synthetic fertiliser, I decided to increase area from 0.4 to 1 acre, and I managed to produce 20 tonnes of tomatoes instead of just 4 tonnes which I used to harvest before”.

With every season, farmers in Malawi are increasingly experiencing erratic rain, floods and droughts, impacting production, livelihoods and food security. Early this year, cyclone Ana affected over 1 million people, displacing over 33,000 Malawian households (close to 200,000 people) as reported by UNICEF. In Chikwawa, the floods not only washed away crops, livestock and household items but also completely damaged the irrigation infrastructure which resulted in farmers failing to grow and irrigate their crops, leading low production and subsequent decrease revenue from crops.

Matilda Domasi, a female farmer from Chikwawa District said:

“The floods washed away our crops and further damaged the irrigation infrastructure which means it will be difficult for my family to recover from this hazard as we will not be able to produce crops during the winter season through irrigation”.

While the farmers in the project communities show enterprise, resilience and progress, investing in their own climate adaptation and resilience against climate change; the threat to the future of agriculture is real. Year after year, climate change is reducing food production and food availability. This is the situation in food-growing communities around the world.

At the UN Climate Change Conference in November 2021 (COP26), the Scottish Government became the first developed nation to pledge finance for loss and damage caused by climate change. In pledging £1 million, which was then doubled (2.2 billion kwacha), they called upon other global leaders to step up and pledge support. COP27, currently taking place in Egypt (6-18 November) -Africa’s COP, offers another opportunity to push world leaders to finance the loss and damage suffered by the most vulnerable communities around the world.

Matilda Domasi further called on the Government of Malawi and its development partners to understand the level of loss and damage being suffered by rural farmers through climate change related hazards, and requested for robust safety net programmes in order to reduce their exposure and sensitivity to the hazards while increasing their adaptive capacity.

Meanwhile, farmers in the four project communities have demonstrated how climate smart agriculture can help ride the storm.

Phillip Chidawati of Challenges Malawi commented:

“We believe if farmers are not climate resilient then they will not be economically resilient. Being climate resilient means that farmers are still able to produce more amidst climate change related hazards which helps them generate income and being economically resilient”

There is no other option but to drive forward with improved productivity, investing in climate resilience, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate smart agriculture underpins the success of the CROPS project. It has contributed to increased productivity and income for the farming communities involved over the last 4.5 years. But farmers need to know that while increasingly more erratic weather patterns threaten local climate resilience and livelihoods, global financing is on its way to support agricultural communities to recover from recent and future storms, flooding and drought as they continue to produce the world’s food.