For some time now local farmers have been unable to afford chemical fertilisers. The land in many parts of Malawi is so infertile that without fertilisers farmers cannot grow an adequate crop. However, the prices are beyond their reach. Even good rain will not be enough to guarantee that there will be no famine next year and in future years too. Our response has been to implement simple conservation principles in our farming of the land we own. This year we saw a significant increase in our harvest of maize despite the drought. It was noticeable that in March when our neighbour's maize was turning brown ours continued to remain green and to grow. In fact it did not go brown until June! We have enough maize to meet all of the needs of the families on the farm and the 14 orphans living with them.
Our hope is that local people will copy what we are doing and so learn better ways to improve their soils. To a limited extent this is now happening without our pushing our methods. There is some hope that our example could make a difference to the lives of people around us. To this end I continue to explore agro-forestry methods of improving soil and land. As I watch the increasing desert-ification (a word that means exactly what it sounds like) of parts of Malawi (and especially our region) as trees are harvested but not replaced I have become convinced that we have to find ways of encouraging people to plant - and what better way than to demonstrate how the right trees used in the right way on a farm can save money (with less need for fertilisers), increase crops (providing food) and at the same time provide firewood (saving money and labour). We are beginning to experience all 3 benefits after just 2 years of tree planting. I plan to plant 250 more trees this year.