What we need is water

Our farm has pretty descent soils, a little acidic in places but nothing that can’t be fixed. The results from the soil analysis that was carried out is encouraging, but what the place needs is water.  One of my priorities over vacation was to help set up a small scale and simple irrigation system.

We used to be part of a water scheme implemented by the government for households in the area. Over the years we have had our water supply continuously interrupted by our neighbors. It is very annoying not having  water when you need it so we decided to do something about it. We laid about 700 meters of pipe for irrigation. We tapped into a stream that is about 600 meters away from our farm.  We get very good pressure and clean water which is an added advantage. The source is very clean and as far away from households as possible. In this case we are guaranteed nobody washes their clothes or does anything that can affect the quality of the water close to the source.

With our own water supply, we should be able to grow crops all year round. We have to manage our crops efficiently so as not to compromise on the soil quality. We intend to do crop rotation with a mixture of legumes and other crops. Funds permitting we will also start growing a variety of fruits soon. According to the World Health Organization, Malawi lags way behind in fruit and vegetable production compared to other African countries. Malawians don’t even consume anywhere near what they are supposed to consume in fruits and vegetables. Maybe we can do something about that too and contribute to improved household fruit and vegetable consumption.

Home for vacation

It has been an amazing week and It has flown by so fast to be honest. It only seems like yesterday when I started my 10 day vacation. It was fun catching up with family and friends and helping out with the maize harvest. I am happy to say that all the maize is now at home and ready for shelling. I have left for the south to see friends family and my girlfriend. I will keep you posted as soon as my vacation is over.

The chicks are alright

Chicks feeding

The entrepreneurship spirit is in the air. Can you feel it? It seems as if the bug has hit everyone in the family at the moment. Wali, my youngest brother, has finally started his poultry business. He has worked so hard and we are all so very proud of him. It all started as small talk but it is now reality. A lot of work is involved in raising chickens  but I know he will do just fine. He has done his research and he knows what to do.

Construction of poultry housing

I understand the first week of chicken farming is the most critical. Once the chicks have been brought in, one has to ensure that that they have all the necessary requirements for their upkeep (feed, proper housing, heat, lighting, and enough space). Since the chicks arrived, my brother has made sure that they have been kept on their feet to reduce suffocation. Apparently the little chicks tend to hurdle together and in the process some are stepped on leading to suffocation. My brother and cousin have been doing four hour shifts in the evening just to make sure that the chicks are alright. Things should go back to normal after a week or so.

My brother and I had an interesting discussion about the poultry business and other plans we had for the farm and a few other things. He has already identified potential customers for the chickens once they are fully grown in six weeks time. We worked on a continuity plan and decided on having alternating batches of chickens. My brother started with a hundred chicks and once they are three weeks old, I will purchase an extra hundred to ensure that chickens are always available whenever customers need them. We also talked about finding a place where he can sell the chickens as well as some of the produce that will come from the farm.

An important objective of the government of Malawi under the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS-II) is to promote dietary diversity for Malawians. We intend to contribute to this objective by providing our customers with the best of diversified products from the business and the farm  including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and various meat products.

Completed poultry housing

We have pruned the apple trees. Have we done the right thing?

John! We have pruned  the apple trees, have we done the right thing?

I most recently received an email from my father updating me on a few activities that have taken place on the farm since Easter. I was lucky enough to have traveled to Mzuzu to spend a few days with my family. We mostly caught up and talked about activities that we thought were most feasible for our farm. We decided on a mixture of livestock, vegetables, fruits and aquaculture. My father has been busy ever since working on a few things. I had initially planned to go back and help out with a few activities in June including harvesting last years maize and pruning apple trees. It looks as if my father has beaten me to the apple trees.

Apple trees before pruning

I bought about a hundred apple trees in 2007 when I visited my parents from college. I have never seen them fruit personally but my father said he harvested a few fruits in 2009. We haven’t harvested anything since. The trees look healthy to me so I decided to find out why they weren’t fruiting. A little online research and I think I may have figured out the problem. Unlike apple trees that undergo extreme winter conditions, ours grow in fairly mild winter conditions and as such do not lose all their leaves. Our apple trees have been growing as a bush more or less. I told my father that we needed to trim them out a bit to give them room and a bit of air. I had also thought we needed to remove all the leaves and see what would happen from. We should hopefully have some fruits next year assuming that we followed the instructions correctly.

Apple trees after pruning

To everything there is a season

Elegant, simple and yet so true for the farmer-to everything there is a season. No matter where the farmer is, there is always a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which was planted. The rains may come early, at times late, sometimes none at all, but the farmer will always be out there. It can change from year to year, but each year a time to plant and a time to harvest. All it takes is a little bit of faith and patience. I love you farmer!

(Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2 (KJV)

Picture from Fact or Hogwash

The farmers verse

On the path to self-sufficiency

Smallholding, part-time farming, hobby farming, homesteading, or whatever you want to call it, producing your own food and a little surplus is still possible. Regardless of all the possibilities, such a lifestyle remains a distant dream for most. Very few attempt it believing that it is beyond their grasp, that they lack the necessary expertise to embark on such an adventure. I understand such concerns. After all farming is not as easy as it looks. To succeed at farming, a thousand things have to go right. Failure usually only requires one or two things to go wrong.

When I had mentioned that I had decided to venture into farming, my youngest brother thought I had gone crazy. Some of my friends thought it was a good idea, and a few others made it clear that smallholding is not always rosy. Of course there are other important things to consider as well such as weather, access to information, availability of inputs, labor, financing, energy, technical expertise, and the political and economical environment just to mention a few. We all have to take risks at some point and I am willing to take mine today. It is a calculated risk and I am willing to see it through.

You may be wondering why smallholding of all things. It is simple really. My family has been involved in farming for a while now. I remember weekend visits to the farm as a little kid to feed chickens, collect eggs, water vegetables, and pick fruits. My father, a church minister, has a passion for agriculture. He says the church can use agriculture to help develop rural communities. My late grandfather, also a church minister, was the same. I understand he was known as the reverend with an immense passion for agriculture. I too love agriculture. I spend most of my summers working on a dairy farm while in Europe, studied agriculture and horticulture in junior college, and agriculture economics in graduate school. The other reason for smallholding is my parents. My mom is already retired and my dad is approaching full retirement. At least it will give them something to do.

I will not be quitting my job just yet. Doing so will be suicidal. Besides I need the money to invest in smallholding. I guess I will only consider quitting when the returns to smallholding are greater than what I get from my current employment. In my absence, I will let my parents handle management issues. I have about 25 acres of land at my disposal and I am ready for a new adventure. A friend of mine once said most people are scared to follow their dreams because they feel that they are not ready. You only get ready when you have actually started the walk towards that dream. Here is to beginning that walk.