Feeding a family of five – Sylvia’s story in Malawi

Food SecuritySelf-help groups

Life was hard for Sylvia’s family. Her husband had abandoned her and she had only one bag of maize to feed five people.

Sylvia at work on her land with her son Christopher (13) in Chirambi, Salima, Malawi. Photo: Ralph Hodgson

Food insecurity was a problem for others, too, in the Chirambi community, Malawi, so people were mobilised and introduced to Foundations for Farming principles and self-help groups.  

Similar programmes are being rolled out across the northern, southern and central parts of Malawi, and they are making a huge difference. 

Foundations for Farming aims to bring transformation to individuals, communities and nations through faithful and productive use of land, while self-help groups bring life-changing skills and opportunities for those involved – often the very poorest people in society. 

Practice brings hope

In Sylvia’s case, she faced an extra struggle because she hadn’t been properly trained in Foundations for Farming. Once she had learnt the theory and practice, she was better equipped to maximise her crop yield. 

It took time and she faced challenges. Last year she had not been fully convinced by the method and had not mixed the locally made fertiliser correctly. The results were disappointing. But she persevered, and with the encouragement of those around her, she learnt more. 

This year was much better and she is confident about the future. ‘In the 2018 farming season I will harvest 25 bags of maize, each weighing 50kg. I only need 18 to feed my family. The method really works,’ says Sylvia. 

She adds: ‘Since 2017, we have been able to eat three meals a day.’ 

‘We even eat soya porridge,’ says her son Mickson. 

Sylvia also grew enough groundnuts to fill six 50kg bags, worth about £200 at the market.

Family Portrait of Sylvia with her son Kennedy (6) and daughter Tabish (2) in Chirambi, Salima, Malawi. Photo: Ralph Hodgson

Chickens and honey

What’s more, she is also rearing chickens and has been able to put a new door on her house with the profits from her crops. Sylvia has been able to use animal manure for fertiliser, and this has become a commonly used practice in her village. People are even starting to sell animals as a small business venture. 

Manure is known as a good fertiliser but could cost as much as £25 per bag. However, in her village, Salima, people have been able to sell and buy organic fertiliser for just £1 per bag. This is even better for the environment but has the same impact on the growth of crops.

People have also taken to keeping bees and selling honey at £1 a bottle. Before, they were chopping down trees for charcoal to raise extra income. But making money from the honey means trees aren’t being cut down and they are preserving the local environment. 

Group gains

‘Being a member of a self-help group is very helpful since we act as group,’ says Sylvia. ‘In 2017, I got a loan to start a business… Now, I am planning to build a better house since food is not a problem any more.’ 

While there are many others who are yet to benefit in Sylvia’s community, Tearfund’s International Director, Myles Harrison, described the work being done as transformational: ‘Not only has their income increased, but so has their confidence in themselves, their relationships with those around them and their faith.’

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Nick Wyke
Nick Wyke is the editor of the Tearfund Learn blog.