Report from Malawi: Subsistence Farmers Share Food and Stories of Success

On Wednesday the moderator visited a remote village where he was greeted warmly with song and dance, and then fed by subsistence farmers.

The village is typical of those in northern Malawi, with a dozen or so homes, each made of dried mud walls about nine inches thick, with makeshift windows and doors. Each home typically has four rooms. Cooking is done outdoors.

The village is part of a farming and seed program led by Esther Lupafya, AIDS co-ordinator at Ekwendeni Mission Hospital near Mzuzu, Malawi.

In the program, villagers, who are mostly subsistence farmers, are taught new farming techniques, are encouraged to plant lentils and root vegetables rather than maize, and are provided with recipes to prepare.

Men and women in the village are also encouraged to think outside of their traditional gender roles.

This is part of Lupafya’s thinking. She says HIV and AIDS are not just about prevention and treatment, but about poverty and traditional gender roles.

Out of sheer desperation much of the land in northern Malawi has been over farmed over the decades, leaving fatigued soil that does not provide craps with enough nourishment. Farmers cannot do without fertilizer. Finding new high protein, nutritious and tasty alternatives to traditional methods has been a challenge.

Soybeans, cassavas, sweet potatoes, sorghum and pigeon peas are great alternatives and can be cooked in a variety of different ways.

Villagers prepared about 20 dishes to present to Rev. Dr. John Vissers, moderator of the 138th General Assembly. For each dish the farmer or the cook presented the recipe.

Later, the moderator, along with his wife Lynn Vissers, Rev. Dr. Rick Fee, general secretary of the Life and Mission Agency, Debbie Burns, PCC missionary, shared in the meal.

This three-year farming program, which is coming to an end, began with a few farmers and has spread to thousands across Malawi. Its initial goal was to address malnourishment in children, particularly those under five. But as is always the case, the solution requires a wholistic approach, not just an easy band-aid. Lupafya and her team from Ekwendeni Hospital built a program that zeroes in on malnourishment by addressing the larger issues of soil fatigue, farming practices, hygenie, gender roles and much else.

The villagers reported that since the program started in their community, all of their children have been born and grow healthy, with no reported cases of malnourishment.

The Ekwendeni Mission Hospital is a mission of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian’s Synod of Livingstonia. The Presbyterian Church in Canada has supported CCAP and its various missions for decades through Presbyterian World Service and Development and International Ministries.


About Andrew Faiz

Andrew Faiz is the Presbyterian Record's senior editor.