We are nearing the end of the rainy season here in Malawi, which means the end of the maize and tree-planting season, too. The villages in the School Fees and Trees project do not have wells (called boreholes) or city water. The villagers depend on rains to water their crops. In the past, there was a tried and true planting schedule for the country’s staple food, maize (corn). But with the onset of climate change, weather patterns are no longer easy to predict, and many crops end up destroyed by too much rain – or too little. These days, being at the mercy of the heavens for irrigation is proving risky business.
To find water, the villagers participating in our project must walk at least one kilometer. Not too far compared to many people in Africa, but the distance is still a burden, and it’s not realistic for people to water a crop, which could span several acres, with buckets of water carried from a distant borehole.
At the project we understand that most people will not make the effort to water their tree-seedlings once they are planted in the fields. While the seedlings are in their tubes they are kept near the home and watered with waste water collected from the bathing room. It’s fairly easy to maintain a small tree-seedling nursery in this way, but once the seedlings are dispersed over a large span of land, chances are slim that they will be watered by hand.
To give the seedlings their best chance for survival, they are left to grow in the nursery for anywhere from 3 months to a year, depending on the type of tree in the tube. In January, our School Fees and Trees project provided two villages with a total of 3000 tree-seedlings, all of which had been raised in a nursery and were ready to be transplanted into the field. We were fortunate to have rains a couple of days after we delivered the trees; and on our last site visit, it appeared that most of the trees were doing well.
Delivery of the tree seedlings. 3000 seedlings were delivered to our first two villages.
To help the villagers off-set their dependence on maize, a very weather-sensitive crop, we provided each of our beneficiaries with a bag of sweet potato vines. These vegetables can survive in drought conditions, and are relatively easy to preserve and store in the home. But of the best qualities of sweet potatoes are their nutritional value and their ability to multiply. One bag of vines can produce another 4-5 bags of vines in a year’s time. The villagers who received the vines will be required to give one bag of vines back to the project at the end of the year. These donated vines will be distributed to the next School Fees and Trees village.
We passed out a total of 107 bags of sweet potato vines to our beneficiaries. There is moisture in the soil from the last rains, which will sustain the vines for a short period, but since we delivered the vines (5 days ago), we have not had rain. Tomorrow we are going on a site visit to monitor the situation. If no rains come in the next few days the vines will die unless they are watered by hand. It’s difficult to sit in my house, with the tap water flowing freely in the garden, and think about people who have no easy access to water. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar, I had to fetch my water from a muddy river. Once you know what it is like to carry water a long distance to your home, you never forget to be grateful each time you turn on a faucet.
With the tree-seedlings and sweet potato vines planted, our next School Fees and Trees activity is to work with the Balaka Youth Club to develop our first “village plays” that act out the issues of food security, the financial benefits of planting trees, and other topics we are targeting with our project. These plays will be developed for village performances and also for Luntha TV, our local television station which broadcasts around the country.
Of course, I’m still sewing and drafting patterns when I’m not obsessing about trees! I’m working on a Zoona Nova Travel Bag pattern which I hope to launch in March. If you are interested in being a pattern tester, please get in touch!
PDF Zoona Nova pattern – hot off the printer and ready for the glue stick!
More news soon from the field and the studio. Sending you warm sunshine from Malawi – please send us some rain back!