By Charles Mkoka

Norwegian State Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture and FoodSecurity, Hanna Maren Blafjelldall has urged Malawian farmers to conserve and keep plant genetic resources which would in future be a source of gene-pool for certain nutritious varieties, now on the brink of extinction.Blafjelldall was in the countryaccompanied by Kent Nnadozie from the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Blafjelldall was speaking when she visited activities in Mzimba and Rumphi districts under the Benefit Sharing Fund whose overall objective is to improve the management of the diversity of sorghum, millet, cowpea and pigeon peas to further develop and promote the growing of these adapted crop varieties.

Blafjelldall said, “Malawi has to diversity so that it can break the cycle of food insecurity,” she explained after the two-day long field visits. The crew that escorted her included local non – governmental organizations among them Biodiversity Conservation Initiative (BCI), Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA) and Community Technology Development Trust of Zimbabwe and government researchers from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.

The crew travelled to appreciate a community seed bank at Nkombezi in Rumphi district and an agro-biodiversity demonstration plot. The entourage also had development partners that included FAO and the Development Fund of Norway.

Ester Nyirongo who planted legumes and maize accessed from the community seed bank said crop rotation of maize and legumes which are nitrogen fixers has helped to improve soil fertility in a changing environment.

“This is about indigenous seed multiplication, farmers can access seed on loan from the community seed bank and then repay. The rest can be re-sold to the community,” Nyirongo said during a visit at her garden.

BCI is also encouraging farmers to grow crops such as sorghum, pearl millet as a cash crop than tobacco which is facing opposition due to the stiff global anti-smoking lobby.

“These crops are very tasty with flavor and nutritious,” says Godwin Yindoli Mkamanga,BCI Executive Director adding that the farmers don’t cultivate rice as pearl millet can be used as rice adding that they prepare nsima and beer from these crops.

The foreign visitors also took time off to appreciate a farmer’s seed and food fair at Mpherembe Extension Planning Area in Mzimba district held under the theme, “improving food and nutritional security in areas affected by climate change.”

At the fair farmers displayed various local varieties they grow including the traditional methods they used to preserve the crops.

Evelyn Chavula of Chagamba Village in Traditional Authority Mpherembe said that BCI brought the seeds in 2016 and after harvesting they shared them with other farmers.

“We are harvesting alot without applying fertilizers on the crops. So far we have 30 members (20 women and 10 men) in the group hence making it more gender sensitive and inclusive, said Chavula on the sidelines of the seed and food fair. Inkosi Mpherembe was also in attendance to drive home the message of building resilience to the farmers.

Locally the BSF contribute to improved food and nutrition security in selected low rainfall areas by contributing to the development of effective practices, promoting the cultivation of climate resilience and national policies that embrace agro-biodiversity.

FAO Assistant Representative, George Phiri, an entomologist by profession also shared the visiting team the fall army bio-ecology and the efforts that FAO together with government had taken to help curb the spread of the pest that had ravaged large cultivatable areas of agriculture.

The International Treaty of Plant Genetic Resources is an agreement between member countries to manage plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. It recognizes the enormous contribution of farmers to the diversity of crops that feed the world.

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