Communities in Malawi are adapting to become more resilient to the effects of climate change and deforestation.

Islamic Relief has been working in Chikwawa and Nsanje districts, in the south of the country, focusing on food security and sustainable water supplies.

Both districts were affected badly by the floods in January 2015. The floods, which devastated 15 of the country’s 28 districts, destroyed around 63,936 hectares (636km2) of farmland, leaving 116,000 homes (around 580,000 people) without food. Following the floods was a period of drought, affecting yet more homes.

Over the summer, the Malawi government’s Vulnerability Assessment Committee assessed the situation, and found that 2.8 million people – 17 per cent of the population – would not have enough food for the following three to eight months.

Conservative Agriculture

Some excited recipients of the tree seedlings at Ndakwera Primary School, Chikwawa district.

Some excited recipients of the tree seedlings at Ndakwera Primary School, Chikwawa district.

Sherifa Mia, head of programmes at Islamic Relief’s Malawi office, said: “Food security is a big problem in Malawi and is something that Islamic Relief was already responding to. Our latest project has provided safe water to 18 communities in Chikwawa and Nsanje, while at the same time focusing on building the capacity of the local communities to respond to environmental disasters.”

As part of the project, farmers have been trained in conservative agriculture – how to make best use of the small quantities of rain they receive each year. This training included how to use marker ridges, which are used to help guide tractors on where to plant seeds; swales, which are low tracts of land that are moist or marshy; and pit planting, to help a seed take root in flat or uncultivated land. Sessions were also run on sessions on mulching – enriching soil with material such as decaying leaves, bark or compost – the use of manure, and the effects of soil erosion. Treadle pumps, which are designed to lift water from a depth of up to 7m – were provided to 140 farmers so they could irrigate land by a river.

Sherifa Mia said: “A large part of environmental protection is planting more trees. Deforestation is a big problem in Malawi, with 90 per cent of Malawians using firewood or charcoal for fuel. As part of the project, communities were encouraged to plant trees in their villages, starting with the area surrounding the water point.

“Islamic Relief, working with the Department of Forestry, provided seedlings and trained 18 communities and two schools on tree planting. So far 4,000 tree seedlings have been planted.”

The trees planted near water help with water retention, and fruit and indigenous trees have been planted so communities can supplement their diets with fruit trees, and take traditional remedies from the indigenous trees.