The combination of drought and deforestation has reduced the Kasinthula Cane Growers? (KCG) sugarcane yield by over 28 percent over the past year, according to the cooperative?s chief executive officer Masauko Khembo.
Established in Chikwawa district in southern Malawi?s inhospitable Shire Valley, the KCG smallholders? project has relied heavily on irrigation to overcome the region?s lack of rainfall, which causes severe drought regularly, and occasionally famine conditions.
The valley itself is situated at the end of the Great Rift Valley and is the lowest part of Malawi, a country located in southern Africa. When the farmers are not worried about drought, they have to keep an eye out for heavy flooding, which is sometimes brought on by the twice yearly rainy seasons.
One of the more positive developments KCG has experienced over the past decade is the establishment of their partnership with Fairtrade in 2003, as it has ensured a minimum price for the portions of their crops that are certified by the organisation.
Just participating in Fairtrade?s certification scheme has helped them adapt to climate change, believes KCG farmer and chairman of the Farmers? Association Robert Dziweni, because the organisation ensures that farmers adhere to high environmental standards before they can be deemed certified.
“Fairtrade has standards that make our crops better. We have also connected with the NGO Concern Universal. It has provided us with education on the environment and because of this there is a greater awareness amongst our members.
“What we would like is more financial and technical support to grow our sugarcane. If we cannot adapt to this climate change it will impoverish us again. There are no wild animals here to eat, and many crops will not grow. We need to expand the irrigation system as much as we can. Water is our key to life,” he concluded.
Khembo maintained that the difficulty associated with adapting to extreme weather patterns has been compounded in recent years by a reduction in their irrigation system?s capacity.
KCG?s 282 smallholder farmers are heavily reliant on the water delivery system to coax their crops from the parched earth.
“Life in the Shire Valley as a farmer has always been hard because the region does not receive enough rainfall. Historically, we get about 750mm of rain each year, and you need 2,500mm of water throughout a 12 month period to grow sugarcane properly.