In early February, while snow still settled on Canadian driveways and rooftops, Debora Kantor was experiencing heat and rainy season downpours in Malawi’s rural farmlands, listening to songs about nutrition and sampling sweet potato doughnuts.
Kantor took part in a learning tour organized by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) February 1-17, which visited three food security projects in Malawi.
Kantor, who is the family/youth ministry co-ordinator for the parish of Cambridge and Waterborough, diocese of Fredericton, says she is interested in how climate change is affecting the developing world, and in nutrition around the world, the very issues CFGB projects are tackling in Malawi.
Malawi is 80% rural, with most people relying on subsistence farming for survival, though some farmers produce cash crops such as tobacco and peanuts, Kantor says. Because of this, livelihoods in Malawi have been directly impacted by climate change.
The effects of climate change are widespread globally, but Malawi is particularly susceptible to its negative consequences, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), “due to high population growth, rapid deforestation, and widespread soil erosion.”
Growing seasons have become shorter, Kantor says, with increased flooding and droughts.
Among the projects that the learning tour visited was the Malawi Farmer-to-Farmer Agro-Ecology (MAFFA), a project affiliated with the CFGB through its partner, Presbyterian World Service and Development.
The project teaches farmers planting techniques such as crop rotation, cover crops and intercropping to help fight the effects of climate change.
Kantor says that among the communities learning from MAFFA, there was a strong sense of hope. “Even though the climate was changing, they had hope that now they could cope. They would be able to feed their families.”
The project also teaches subsistence farmers ways to incorporate enhanced nutrition into daily diets. For instance, Kantor says, nearly every meal in Malawi involves nshima, a staple porridge made with maize (corn). While typically made with white corn, the project encourages switching to yellow corn, which has higher vitamin A content. Nutrition training includes sharing new recipes, from sweet potato doughnuts to freshly made soya milk.
All the teaching is done by local farmers. “I was thoroughly impressed with the fact that they’re working with established organizations on the ground,” says Kantor, adding that those who live in the area know its needs intimately.
The three projects Kantor’s group visited also provide training on gender equality, which is ultimately linked to food security, says James Kornelsen, CFGB public engagement co-ordinator.
Women not only prepare the food, they provide it since they are heavily involved with farming, says Kornelsen. “If women don’t have a title to the land, or if they don’t have access to agricultural support…then it becomes a problem for the whole household. She’s the avenue for household food security.”
He says the CFGB defines food security as “all people [having] regular access to enough nutritious food to lead healthy and active lives.” The definition stresses the importance of getting not just “enough” food, but quality nutrition for entire communities.
Kantor recalls that one farmer involved with a CFGB-affiliated project in Karonga, when asked what he thought of the gender training, said that he used to do so-called “women’s work”—such as washing the dishes—behind the house, where no one could see. “If they were seen doing women’s work, they were made fun of,” says Kantor. After completing the gender training, he told her, “Now I am a free man!”
One woman that Kantor spoke with told her, “Now I feel married again.” She and her husband now work the fields together and decide together what they would be planting.
Since the trip, Kantor has given a few presentations on what she learned in Malawi, and written to her member of Parliament to share her learning tour experience and ask that Canada increase its foreign aid contribution to the UN-recommended 0.7% of gross national income. “I feel now that I’m more informed and able to inform other people.”
The CFGB is a partnership of Canadian churches and church-based agencies, including the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the relief and development agency of the Anglican Church of Canada.
Kantor says she hopes to start a growing project with youth in her community that will help support PWRDF and CFGB projects. Her dream, she says, is to pair youth with gardeners willing to give up a row of their plots for the project. She hopes the teens involved will be able to learn about gardening, and that the vegetables grown could be sold at farmers’ markets.
As an organic gardener herself, Kantor knows the struggle of depending on weather. “I didn’t get any rain last year,” she recalls, noting that a local farmer near where she lives commented that his yield was down 30%.
But, she says, “I have other means to get food”—subsistence farmers in Malawi don’t. “They’re dependent completely on what comes out of that ground.”