The cover of today’s Nation newspaper once again provided me with a reminder of how far we have yet to go in Malawi. On page one the headline says,“1.7 Million Face Hunger.” And on the second page, “130,000 Without Assistance.”

An Agricultural Extension Officer in Eastern Zambia shows off his “fertility ditches.” The technique allows farmers to maintain high soil fertility for up to three years on one plot of land.

World Renew has been working with small-holder farmers in southern Africa for 22 years. For the last ten years, we have focused on improving food security by increasing production. During my recent visits to Zambia and Mozambique, I witnessed firsthand the difference our work has made. In the Mutarara region of Mozambique, I visited community group after community group, they all shared the same message: "We are no longer hungry, and we have some extra now.”  Our staff member in Mozambique, Istifanus Gimba, says that when he first came here, he could not step out of his vehicle without someone asking him for food.  I was not asked even once for food during this recent trip.  In Zambia, I met a group of farmers who were experimenting with different farming practices that target building  soil fertility.  Whenever I see small-holder farmers trying new things, especially when the experimentation is labour intense, I know that something has changed.  Experimentation involves both labour and risk, and most small-holder farmers in southern Africa do not have sufficient resources to take that risk.

Despite these successes, many families in Malawi are looking for food assistance as a means of survival this year despite  the country’s surplus food stocks.  Some say that this is simply a case of inadequate distribution, but I believe that it is a result of household vulnerability. The poorest households in Malawi have no savings and no room for error.  A seemingly minor problem such as going to the doctor to get treatment for malaria is enough to knock the household budget off balance and leave the family short of food before the next harvest is ready.

World Renew’s work to sustainably increase farm yields for small-holder farmers is a highly effective way to keep families off of the food relief roster. In the communities where World Renew is working  in Zambia and Mozambique, households are beginning to think about something other than just the availability of food.  When I visited with farmers in eastern Zambia, they told me about their plans to buy more oxen to farm more land. They talked about planting trees that would fertilize the soil with leaf litter. They spoke of building better homes. Taking risks and dreaming of better times are signs that these community members have progressed beyond vulnerability toward self-sufficiency.

Check out a video on World Renew’s food security programs in Mozambique on Youtube! Harvest of Plenty: Conservation Farming in Mozambique.


Peter Timmerman

Regional Team Leader
World Renew Malawi & Southern Africa

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