Contributed by Molly Cheatum
If you lose your way, go back to where you started and pick up the trail from there.
– Senegalese saying introduced by Tony Rinaudo at the Beating Famine conference.
When Kusamala visits our farmers in the field to share permaculture principles and practices, the eldest farmers will often say “Oh – this is how we used to farm.” This sentiment deeply resonates with the conversation that is happening at conferences like the one last week in Lilongwe, on Beating Famine. An important question asked at the conference was how do we value and harness knowledge from farmers and combine it with technological innovations like solar, cell phones, improved crop varieties and processing without losing one or the other?
Many speakers addressed this issue in different ways. Chris Reij from World Resources Institute talked about the need for using media and phones as a way to connect farmers to information and also for them to be able to showcase their knowledge. Tony Rinaudo from World Vision presented on farmer managed natural regeneration or FMNR and how this practice is being mainstreamed in countries like Niger and Kenya. FMNR selects and prunes regrowth coming from tree-stumps or roots. This approach to managing forests is very cheap, not labor intensive, and works well in dry harsh regions because there is no need to water.
Kusamala was selected to be a panelist in a session about holistic grazing and spoke about Kusamala’s recent partnership with the Savory Institute and its vision of becoming the first Savory Hub in Malawi. That vision includes managing a demonstration site of 650 hectares towards holistic livestock land management, training 10 staff, and working towards a similar network in Malawi that supports grassroots efforts and small local projects focusing on regenerating the land.
One of the key positive takeaways from the conference was meeting and recognizing that there are a host of like-minded people working towards similar goals here in Malawi and across Africa. These approaches are all working towards the same end goal to uplift farmers, improve access to knowledge, innovative practices, and regenerate degraded environments towards resiliency. If farmers are included in the process and these approaches are applied together, there is potential for significant impact and change.