Building resilient livelihoods through climate-smart agriculture

Published by:
Focus Region:
Sub-Saharan Africa
Focus Topic:
Capacity Development
Climate / Weather / Environment

Phalombe is believed to be a host to perennial natural disasters, a situation that poses a serious challenge to the majority of families who depend on farming to feed their families.

These disasters have, among others, resulted in loss of crops and livestock, land degradation through soil erosion and destruction of agricultural infrastructure, among others.

In Mtalava Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Nkhulambe, for instance, 18 smallholder farmers plying their farming business under the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM) had their crops and livestock destroyed by raging waters that came with Tropical Cyclone Freddy.

But they are now slowly building back.

Grace Kadzuwa, 45, is among those farmers whose crops were swept away.

“I had a promising maize crop, soya beans, chilies and sweet potatoes. But all of them went with the waters, leaving me destitute,” lamented Kadzuwa, a single mother of seven children.

Sixty-two-year-old Fredrick Phauphau of Mthumpwa Village in the area of T/A Nkhumba joined NASFAM in 1998 to benefit from extension and other services the association provides to its members.

Since he joined NASFAM, Phauphau realized increased growth in both financial and material resources.

He managed to buy different types of livestock such as cattle, goats, chickens and goats, among others. He also bought an engine pump to boost his irrigation farming, and installed a solar powered lighting system in his house, costing over MK100,000, a feat many have failed to achieve in rural areas.

But Phauphau said he lost a good part of his wealth to Cyclone Freddy.

“It’s a very painful situation I have found myself in. The disaster has drawn me backwards. I lost some livestock and crops to the cyclone,” he said.

PHOTO: Fredrick Phauphau and his wife sharing their story

What is interesting, however, is that Kadzuwa, Phauphau and their fellow NASFAM members have remained resilient and are still able to feed themselves without external support, while non-members continue to depend on humanitarian food assistance.

Soon after the rainy season cessation, they turned to winter cropping to grow food crops. As they waited for the crop to mature, some farmers such as Phauphau have been selling some livestock they have been rearing to meet their daily needs as they wait for the winter crop to mature.

When asked on what motivated them, they said they know the long-term effect of depending on relief. They say it creates a dependency syndrome, which eventually prevents people from taking personal responsibility to solve their challenges.

“One of the most important things we have learnt from NASFAM is to be self-reliant as farmers. Relief undermines local economies, creating a perpetual desire for relief assistance and trapping people into chronic dependency on external assistance,” said Kadzuwa.

Phauphau corroborated, saying dependence on external assistance is one of the features of extreme poverty, associated with a sense of shame or defeat. For him and many other farmers however, they were prepared to face unforeseen circumstances through diversification into livestock.

NASFAM, with support from its partners, Governments of Ireland and Norway, have been implementing climate-smart agriculture (CSA) initiatives in the area, which advance an integrated approach to managing landscapes, cropland, livestock, forests and fisheries — that addresses the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change.

Through these interventions, the association has been working with farmers to adopt better farming practices, including crop diversification, winter cropping, small-scale irrigation farming, rearing livestock, as well as improving soil health by making and using manure.

In addition to the above interventions, loans accessed from their village savings and loans groups, have helped these farmers to pick up the broken pieces and turn around their situation much quicker in a bid to improve their livelihoods.

Vincent Nhlema
Originally published on