A Return to Agroecology Traditions Points the Way Forward for Malawi’s Farmers

BLANTYRE, Malawi — A harvest of just four sacks of maize, each weighing 50 kilograms, or 110 pounds, means only four and a half months of food security for Ellena Joseph and her family. Come September, the 63-year-old begins the vicious cycle of a desperate eight-month-long hunt for food.

Over the past 20 years, her maize harvest has progressively declined, even in times of good rains.

Her biggest challenge, she says, is that every year she struggles to find enough fertilizer.

“I often miss out on government’s fertilizer subsidy program and it’s difficult for me to find money to buy enough fertilizer,” Joseph tells Mongabay at her home in a village just outside the city of Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital.

Thirty-two years ago, Joseph inherited a large piece of land where her parents used to harvest as much as 60 bags of maize, Malawi’s staple crop. Back then, her parents grew a local variety of maize and didn’t need to apply fertilizer or manure.