Victory gardens: Boosting farmers’ resilience in Malawi

The cultivation of low-cost vegetable gardens is helping Malawian households to diversify their diets, reduce reliance on maize and improve their resilience to the changing climate whilst also making savings in time and money.

By practicing permaculture, Susan Manuel has access to a sustainable source of fresh vegetables © Charles Mkoka

In 2016-17, Malawi faced its worst food crisis in 30 years with a 42% decline in its main staple crop – maize – and many households were unable to feed themselves. However, an initiative launched in July 2016 in three rural districts is helping 150,000 villagers ward off famine.

Based on successful pilots in other countries, the Victory Gardens campaign supports the establishment of small vegetable home gardens using local resources and sustainable permaculture and organic farming techniques. In the first year, over 100 village garden facilitators have been trained by the NGO, Face to Face, who conduct 1-day village workshops with 20-30 villagers and create at least one garden on the day of the workshop.

In Kazitenge village, maize and sunflower crop residues are being used to fertilise the soil before cultivating vegetables. The village chiefs first learnt about the new techniques from a field day which was used to showcase sustainable farming practises such as minimum soil disturbance, use of indigenous knowledge to curb pest and diseases, and water and soil conservation among other climate-smart approaches. After the demonstration, the villagers immediately set about establishing 52 gardens. According to Maliselino M’ninga, the Kazitenge group village headman, “Those not practising the initiative are the ones that are failing to benefit from organic vegetables that are fresh and nutritious.”

Susan Manuel, a 35-year-old mother of five, started her home garden in March 2017. She has been using crop residues with goat dung to make organic manure to put on the garden before she plants the vegetable seeds. “I am getting vegetables on a daily basis without spending money. I have beans, Chinese vegetables, carrot, pumpkin leaves, sweet potatoes and even okra,” she states. Instead of buying vegetables, Manuel now redirects her savings to household necessities and essentials for her children, like school books. “Traditionally, women have had to travel long distances to look for vegetables. Today, I am home doing other household chores and I can just walk into my garden to get vegetables,” she adds.

So far the Victory Gardens initiative has reached 55,000 households that are all practising various permaculture initiatives and it is expected that, by the end of 2017, another 22,000 households (100,000 people) will benefit from home gardens. During 2017, the initiative is also being expanded to rural households in Mozambique and Tanzania.

Charles Mkoka

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.