Most farmers in Malawi have little land and must work hard to produce enough food. In addition, food production is often one-sided and focused on just a few species, with maize the dominant ingredient of the Malawian diet. As a result of inadequate food supplies, unbalanced diets and insufficient knowledge of nutrition, very many Malawian children suffer from malnutrition. Lack of training in more sustainable and efficient cultivation methods, few opportunities for irrigation and poor access to technical aids are among the factors that lead to low productivity on family farms.
In order to strengthen food and nutrition security for poor families in the Malawian countryside, the Development Fund works to provide training in sustainable agricultural techniques. This implies, e.g., more varied food production with more diversified crops in the fields, simple techniques for soil conservation that help the soil hold on to humidity, and use of livestock manure to add nutrients to the soil. To make sure the knowledge reaches out to other farmers and is explained in words the farmers themselves understand, we use the model farmer method. By training farmers who expressly want to try out new techniques and to communicate their knowledge to other farmers in the community, we ensure that the methods are tested and adapted to local conditions. Each model farmer is given thorough training in methods, which they try out on their own fields. Later they have the responsibility for spreading their knowledge to other farmers, so-called follower farmers, and following these up with regular visits or meetings attended by all follower farmers. We also seek to increase livestock holdings among poor farmers. This is done by giving animals (e.g. chickens or goats) to a few farmers, who must later donate some of their offspring to others. Along with the animals, the farmers are also given training in animal husbandry and health. The livestock have a positive effect on agricultural production as well as on nutrition. In time, they may also become an important source of income, since the farmers can sell hens or goats on the local market.
Our experience shows that increased diversity in the field combined with animal husbandry provides a major contribution to increased productivity and a more varied and nutritious diet. Increased training in and awareness of nutrition and eating habits are also crucial to ensure more diversified and nutritious diets.