Malawi on the road to fighting poverty

20 Sep 2010

 
Rajab poses for a photograph besides his TV set. (Photo: UNDP)

Five years ago, Mwandama village in the Southern district of Zomba, Malawi’s former capital city was a hunger prone area. Although they are a predominantly farming area, the yields were very low. Few people could afford fertilizer and seeds to grow their own food. 

The village, with a population of 35,000 people was generally characterized with high poverty levels, malnourished children, and no access to clean water.

But a lot has changed in the last five years, since the introduction of the Millennium Villages Project -MVP- in the area. The Project is a partnership between the UNDP, the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the Millennium Promise. It has been implementing practical interventions in rural areas including Mwandama, to alleviate poverty and provide access to education and other basic necessities. 

When the project started in 2005, every household was given seeds and fertilizer worth US$ 110 thousand.   This improved harvests the following year.  Over the years, with the continued use of fertilizer subsidies, hybrid seeds and improved farming techniques, the village now produces more than five metric tons per hectare of crop a year, exceeding the national average of 1.2 metric tones per hectare.

Through sale of crops like corn, soya beans and brown beans, the village has generated a combined income of US$155 thousand in the last five years. A village grain bank with a capacity of 1,500 metric tones to store surplus corn and ensure food security throughout the year was recently constructed and helps villagers who are struggling to feed their families. This income has also enabled the villagers to buy essential commodities such as sugar, salt; clothes and build iron sheet for the roofs of their houses, items they could not afford a few years ago.

In addition, each farmer contributes two 50kg bags of corn for the school feeding programme to ensure that children who go to school have a meal every day, just in case they are not able to eat properly at home. Corn is Malawi’s staple food and various meals are made out of the dry seeds.

Matias Rajab a villager in Mwandama grew cabbages for sale and used the proceeds to open a small grocery store, where he sells food.
 
 “The profits from my grocery store made it possible for me to build an iron roofed house and buy a TV set,” said a proud Rajab. My dream though is to work extra hard and get enough money to pay for my secondary education. I dropped out in the second year of high school because I could not afford school fees.

Ban Ki-moon speaks with a successful farmer in Malawi. (Photo: UNDP)

Generally life has changed in the village since the inception of the project. Over 70 boreholes have been drilled, enabling communities to drink safe water. The project also incorporates an immunization programme, which reaches 95% of children, and provides health care to those who needs providers to make household visits. 

The village was visited by UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon during his trip to Malawi in May this year, where he described it as a model for achieving the MDGs. He also promised to take Mwandama’s success to the world.
 
“The good news is that people’s lives are far better, The vast majority of families now have enough food. I saw that for my self at the community grain bank. Thanks to the new fertilizer and seeds, the areas small farmers produce a surplus of the grain. Today I call upon every country to look closely at this success. It is a case study on what possible in even the poorest places in the world,” said the Secretary General.