As the world celebrates Women’s Equality Day tomorrow, we celebrate good rains and small but bold steps to improving the lives of female peanut farmers in Malawi.
Farmers have reported high yields of peanuts following the steady rains during the peanut growing season. This is in stark contrast to the prolonged drought of the past few years and the floods in early 2016 that devastated many crops across Malawi and left millions in need of food aid.
The increased yields have been primarily due to the good rains and the adoption of improved agricultural practices. In Mchinji, members of the farmer group that are part shareholders of Liberation, have been trained on good agricultural practices using a new approach based on drawings by farmers.
In a group, men and women were given a task to draw symbols to depict their uses for peanuts, such as grilled for snacks, ground for sauces, milled for flour, or stored for seed for the following year. They drew the important activities in the peanut value chain.
They then developed a pictorial vision that they would like to achieve with their income from their peanuts, and the steps for achieving their vision. Several drew visions with new roofs on their houses, others drew livestock, and many drew children’s books and school uniforms reflecting their ambitions for the children to complete primary or secondary school.
With training and support from NASFAM extension officers and Twin’s sustainable agriculture adviser, the farmers also developed an activity calendar and income and expenditure chart.
These simple tools have no words, they only use pictures and tallies to illustrate every aspect of groundnut production from land preparation through harvest to sale. The activities were then practiced on a plot so farmer groups could see how to follow the activities on their own plots.
The pictures are also used to reflect on gender balance in peanut production, and explore roles and responsibilities, as well as how farmers use their income from groundnuts and decision making within their household.
The approach has been particularly well received by illiterate and semi-illiterate farmers who no longer need to rely on written notes, often in English (not their mother tongue) and often written by someone else. They can refer back to their drawings and their personal vision and follow their progress, as well as the next steps to increase their peanut production and increase their income.
The feedback from peanut farmers has been tremendous. Women in particular report that they appreciate the flexibility of using the tools at times that suit them and their household and family duties. We have also observed increased numbers of women farmers using the pictorials and sharing the tools with other women friends, family and neighbours. The enthusiasm of the women using the tools is compelling for other women farmers and motivates them to share the experiences and further promote the use of the tools with other farmer members.
When the peanut season draws to a close we will survey the farmers to assess changes in their yields and incomes, as well as decision making within their households.