Every year from November to April, the rain comes to Malawi’s Mangochi district in torrential sheets that can last for days on end, turning the region’s scorched land into fields of overflowing mud and water. In this environment, farmers like Clara Bamusi need the right skills to manage their crops and keep their families well fed.
Clara, a mother of six, is a small-scale farmer in the local Chibwelera farmer organization. In Malawi, like many other countries, small-scale agriculture forms the backbone of the national economy and the livelihood for more than 80 percent of the population.
As part of the United Nations World Food Programme’s (WFP) Purchase for Progress (P4P) program, Clara learns about good farming, storage and market access methods. Before joining P4P, her harvests were often meager. Today, Clara uses her earnings to buy double the fertilizer and hybrid seed from before. Last year, this resulted in 65 additional bags of maize.
In fact, her harvests are having a positive impact on the community around her. Clara’s 8-year-old daughter Ruth and her classmates at the Ching’ombe Primary School receive Clara’s homegrown crops during class breaks. Ruth is one of 800,000 children in 815 schools across the country that receives school meals through WFP. With the support of WFP partners at the United Nations Children’s Defense Fund and United Nations Population Fund, Ching’ombe is one of 89 schools that enjoy local, homegrown foods like those from Clara’s harvest.
These kids not only eat staple foods like maize, rice and corn soya blend, but they incorporate the added nutritional value of local beans, lentils, fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat and fish on a regular basis.
“[Some children] walk long distances and reach the school tired. But when they have eaten, they regain energy,” Clara says. “I feel great when children are eating in school because they learn properly when they have eaten.”
Since homegrown school feeding was first introduced at Ching’ombe in late 2012, student enrollment has skyrocketed by 72 percent.
Through WFP’s linkage of P4P to school feeding at Ching’ombe — and thus, creating homegrown school meals — Clara’s harvests of maize, soya, sweet potatoes and ground nuts provide local nutrition to Ruth and her classmates and provide a sustainable income to support the rest of her family.
“I have managed to use proceeds from my sales to the school to buy farm inputs, goats, cement and 28 iron sheets [to improve our home],” she says. “We are able to buy good clothes and food.”
What’s more, the dietary diversity and gardening practiced at school makes its way back home. “Mama, why don’t you cook with banana or why don’t you add some tomatoes and onions?” Ruth says to her mother, Clara.
“I have taken my daughter’s advice and now the whole family is eating more balanced meals,” Clara says.
Clara is not the only parent and farmer who benefits; the impact of homegrown school feeding has been felt throughout the community. According to Ching’ombe’s head teacher, Goodson Nswala, the program has enhanced the socio-economic growth of local families.
“Previously, they had no markets around to sell their produce, but with the program, now there is a market close to them,” Nswala says. “Farmers are able to pay school fees for their children. Farmers have managed to construct modern houses. Farmers are encouraged to produce different types of crops in order to sell to the school.”
Good nutrition: check.
Proper education: check.
Sustainable communities: check.
By Aliya Karim
World Food Program USA