Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Certified Seed taking farmers beyond food security

John Msuku would easily have been just another farmer trying too hard
to eke out a living from growing rice in the Rice Scheme at Hara,
instead he stands out as a rare success story from the crowd. He now
takes care of his parents and siblings, he has build a modern iron
sheet house, he has roped piped water into his village, he has secured
land on which he plans to build a house to rent out.

So much has changed in his life for the better and he is just 29.
Life wasn't as rosy for John until him and about 11 others were picked
Higgins - This is what Irish Taxpayers want to see
in 2009 by the International Crops Research Institute for the
Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) to try out better yielding certified seed.
The selected farmers formed Chigomegzo Seed Multiplication Group in

The selected 12 were drilled with agricultural and management skills
and given seed whose harvest is sold back to ICRISAT at a higher
price. John Msuku at one point grew one and a half hectare of rice
which brought him seventy 100kg bags which were converted into a cool
K400, 000 upon selling to ICRISAT.

"People have profited from the certified seed, some have bought
fishing trawls, built houses, secured carts and life is good for them,
we eat healthy you cannot even notice that we are farmers," said
Witness Ngwira, President of Hara Water Users Association and member
of Chigomegzo Seed Multiplication Group.

Rice varieties that have been planted in the paddy fields all through
history produce an average of two 100kg bags of rice from 0.1 of a
hectare, the certified seed fills up five 100 kg bags from 0.1 of a

Apart from being disease resistant Ngwira said the certified seed is
John Msuku (2nd from right) poses with an admiring Higgins and his parents
quick maturing available for harvesting after only 112 days unlike the
145 the common variety demands.

The farmers grow FAYA, Kilombero, Pusa 33 certified varieties which
they alternate between the two growing seasons.
Seed multipliers have also been given Pigeon Pees seed to multiply;
John Msuku has filled up about a hectare with Pigeon Pees and is
expecting about thirty 50Kg bags. This will also be sold to ICRISAT so
that other farmers can buy it for next season.

"Pigeon peas take about 6 months to mature, apart from selling them,
its good relish, we can use the stems as firewood and the leaves can
be burnt and used as a preservative," said Msuku

Principal Scientist (Agronomy/Seed Systems) Country Representative for
ICRISAT Malawi, Dr. Moses Siambi, said his organisation aims at
bettering people's lives using science and usually it is the farmers'
success stories that speak for the organisation.

"We usually work with groundnuts and pigeon peas but this time Irish
Aid asked us to try rice, so we asked farmers to form an association
so that they can produce, package and sell the seed it to others,"
said Siambi.

Elizabeth Higgins, the Irish Ambassador to Malawi said her country's
Siambi - Donations do not have to always be big
aid focuses on improving people's lives especially in the areas of
livelihood security and reducing mother and child mortality by
improving their nutrition.

"We have pumped in 2.2 million into ICRISAT and such kind of success
stories are what the Irish taxpayers want to hear," said Higgins, "I
have urged the seed producers to emphasize on quality, myself coming
from a farming background, I know that one cannot achieve quality
without putting effort into it."

Asked how sustainable the project is, Higgins said that is up to the
farmers' commitment and Ministry of Agriculture's supporting policy.
Siambi added that he hopes that the money that the money that the
farmers make from selling seed to other farmers will ensure that the
project sustains itself until everyone is growing certified seed.

"I always insist that donations do not have to be big to make an
impact, they just have to be tailored and you will hear success
stories like we heard here in Karonga," said Siambi.

Siambi also said that ICRISAT is working on an upland rice variety
which will not require flooded conditions to grow which according to
him is a positive step in meeting the increasing demand for rice.

Watch the farmers welcoming the Ambassador with an amazing display

Ngwira however notes that even though better seed is available, it is
difficult to convince the local farmers to adopt it; instead farmers
cling to the low yielding varieties their parents taught them to grow.
Even if they adopt the high yielding variety, rice farmers at Hara
Rice Scheme keep on being swindled by vendors who buy the rice at give
away prices. During the harvesting season there are even tales of
fishermen exchanging rice with fish or cassava.

Despite Hara rice farmers forming an association that buys member's
rice, it still doesn't have the capital to buy all the rice and after
buying finding market outlets is the problem.

"Government should help farmers sell their own rice to get the
Msuku's pigeon peas captured at exactly 30 days
benefits that middlemen get. Rice from Karonga is being exported but
do the farmers get the benefits? "said Siambi.

Hara Rice Scheme, which totals 238 hectares, was started in 1967 and
was being run by the government until the early 2000s when the farmers
took over running the scheme. The rice farmers are drawn from 11
villages surrounding the scheme and some have formed a cooperative

In 2009 a factory was built aided by the European Union to help
farmers add value to their rice, it buys up to 21 tonnes which the
cooperative secretary Peter Msomphola agrees is too small, membership
to the cooperative is still at 65 as people fear the membership fee of

"We have a small capital just above K1 million, we lack transport to
Hara Rice Scheme - Underused by tradition? 
reach far placed markets and lack of training," said Msomphola

Only a few focused farmers and lucky ones like John Msuku and Witness
Ngwira are able to earn real money from the waters and land of Karonga
South East, the rest continue to get ripped by vendors and grow low
yielding varieties making Hara a potential tool in fighting food
insecurity and yet underused.

Bright Baghaya Mhango - +265993205259
'I Am A Soul Rebel'

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