A home-grown solution to African hunger
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More education is one answer. But if the continent's already-educated people picked up farming, "Africa would have plenty to eat," says Chinkhuntha, who was trained as an accountant. Instead, "all the education and knowledge is tucked up in offices" with people who "are not interested in touching the soil."Skip to next paragraph
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In the village of Kalodzera, nestled among rocky hillsides about an hour's drive from Chinkhuntha's farm, most residents haven't had a good meal since June.
But they're hoping this will change - and soon. Last year villagers built two dams and several irrigation ditches with the help of CARE. The project was engineered to be trouble-free - and avoid the fate of many other irrigation projects funded by outside donors, which decayed and were never repaired. For instance, the "valves" that connect dams with ditches are wads of plastic stuffed into irrigation pipes.
This year, villagers expect their harvests to triple.
It wasn't until recent years that dams were needed here. Like most farmers in Africa, people here just waited for rains. But climate change has made irrigation crucial. In fact, total rainfall hasn't decreased much, experts say, but the timing of rains has shifted. This has thrown farmers' traditional planting schedules out of whack.
Now there's greater focus on irrigation here and across Africa. "Irrigation and village savings plans," which help communities protect themselves against food shocks, "are at the top of the agenda," says Sylvester Kalonge at CARE. Malawi's government is boosting irrigation spending this year. And the European Union is prioritizing irrigation in its aid work.
In Kalodzera, such efforts are paying off, slowly. "We are starving, but we will work" to expand irrigation, says village chairman Philemon Sanje. "We will perform wonders by April," when the harvest comes.
On Chinkhuntha's idyllic farm, the man who recently got an honorary doctorate from a Malawian university for his innovation in agriculture, discusses prescriptions for African farming.
First, the continent needs greater independence from western donors. "This is the way America developed," he says, referring to perseverance and innovation required to develop his farm. But by providing aid and free food, rich nations are "enticing us away from going through the same thing." It's a controversial stand in a region where so many depend on donor handouts. But he argues all the aid "is killing us, well-intentioned though it may be" by creating a culture of dependency.
Second, in farming - as in life - principles are key, he says. One he's stuck to would ring true for America's Depression-era generation: Never take out a loan. Debt "robs you of the freedom of the mind," he says. Instead of "thinking about developing your own small resources you're only thinking about how to repay."
Another rule of thumb: "We consume 25 percent of what we produce, and reinvest 75 percent." But this requires patience, he says with a grandfatherly smile - "an ability to defer gratification."