On Wednesday, March 4th, I traveled with Wellings Mwalabu to the village of Disi to attend the Conservation Agriculture Field Day that was organized by VIP, for Disi Village and the surrounding villages. The purpose of Field Day is to give farmers the opportunity to see first-hand sustainable practices being used and to ask the farmers who did the practice questions that only a person who has had the first-hand experience could answer. This is a very effective way to educate farmers about new technologies and a practice that is commonly used in the US as well.
Upon our arrival, a welcoming team of drummers, dancers, and singers greeted and escorted us to the meeting. It became obvious right away, that this was much more than your average field day, this was the celebration of the people and practices that puts food on their tables. After the introduction of many local village Chiefs, the demonstrations began in earnest. I would estimate that approximately 200 people participated in the tours. There were demonstrations of composting, conservation tillage – where plant residue is left on the soil surface to protect the soil and retain moisture, minimum tillage techniques to reduce soil disturbance, new maize variety trials, groundnut (peanut) certified seed production to reduce disease problems, and instructions on how to collect plant samples for a local office of the Malawian Ministry of Agriculture for plant disease diagnostics. Interestingly, I had organized a workshop in New Jersey in late February on cover crops, and many of the practices covered in the field day were the same as in my workshop. This is a credit to the VIP staff for staying abreast of emerging sustainable agriculture practices and promoting them in Malawi.
After the demonstration tour, we returned under the beautiful shade tree that graces the center of the village where the celebration of agriculture and life continued. There was a humorous skit, intended for educational entertainment, where a farm family was planting maize. The wife wanted to use conservation practices and the husband didn’t want any part of it. I did not understand what they said, but I could tell the outcome because they ended up following her wishes. Then more dancing and singing and celebration pursued. There was a time for the VIP staff to say a few things about the importance of this field day and the Chief of Disi gave a very inspiring speech. While I didn’t understand what she said, she was very convincing, because there were lots of heads nodding and clapping. I was given an opportunity to address the group and sent greetings from my village in NJ (yes, it is called Jacksonville) to the villages of Malawi.
I shared that there is a common bond between all farmers around the world and I felt very welcome here. Also, even though many of us had been taught how to farm by our parents and grandparents, and have become set in our ways, we needed to consider new practices, especially those that will help ensure that our children and grandchildren can continue this noble cause of putting food on our tables and those of our neighbors through God’s blessing. I would also like to convey special congratulations to Liz Heinzel-Nelson, Wellings Mwalabu, Frank Mwenjemeka, and Laston for their successful field day, well done!