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How scholarships are helping young women discover agriculture in Malawi

My name is Pilirani Khoza and I am writing from Malawi, in the warm heart of Africa. I have two years of working experience as a research assistant at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR). In 2012, I founded Bunda Female Students Organisation (BUFESO), a student-led initiative with the simple goal of encouraging girls to become academically involved in the field of science and agriculture by providing scholarships to needy students.

The percentage of female students enrolled in public universities in Malawi is at 40% in comparison to male students and 80% of female students withdraw on academic grounds. The main reason for student failure is a lack of basic needs, such as school fees and even sanitary pads. Thus, BUFESO is there to assist those students who lack basic needs.

This year’s theme of agricultural transformation is a clarion call for us, the youth of Africa, to shift from just watching as back benchers to being actors in this important sector. For decades, agriculture has continued to operate using the same static methods and technologies adopted by our forefathers. While we have been able to harvest using those old practices, we must acknowledge that the times, climate and seasons are drastically changing. We must adopt the new technologies that are available to us. I have always considered youth to be the technological doers and thinkers and that they should be actively involved in transforming Africa – they are energetic and hungry for knowledge. They want to expand their expertise.

As a Malawian youth, I don’t just talk about agriculture – I am a horticultural farmer practicing Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) and intensive irrigation techniques. I use simple irrigation equipment like watering canes to grow my crops during drought seasons. In terms of CSA, I do practice mulching with an aim of retaining water. My small farm acts both as a demonstration plot for graduates who want to venture into farming as well as a source of income – the sale of my produce helps me feed my relatives and supports my daily needs.

In 2015, together with my fellow BUFESO members, we initiated a program called the Graduate Farmer Climate Change Program where women farmers were assigned to university graduates for a period of one month and trained to use climate smart technologies. These technologies included water harvesting techniques and mixed-cropping among others. One unique technology we implemented is a simple technique of irrigating crops in areas where the farmers experience water scarcity or where there are no running rivers.

As demonstrated in the photo, a 300 millilitre bottle of water is pierced using a needle on both ends. Then the bottle is tied close to the crop and drops water into the soil. This technique shows that a single bottle can water the crop for a period of two months with successful results. 

BUFESO also conducts career guidance in several secondary schools in Malawi with the aim of motivating secondary school students to choose agricultural courses for their university degree.  The career guidance program has changed the mindsets of several students who thought that agriculture courses were beneath them. Most Malawian youth regard agriculture as “dirty work done by old people” and believe youth should be informal job settings.

The truth is, Malawi is an agri-based nation. Eighty percent of the population earn a living through subsistence farming. BUFESO’s ultimate goal is to empower women. We feel that climate change adaptation should take women’s needs into consideration because women play multiple roles as farmers, sellers, processors, child-carers, and food providers. They are the ones most affected by climate change. Statics show that 70 percent of agricultural labour is done by women.

My interaction with other knowledgeable youth at Young Africa Works 2017 will help me learn about new ideas and technologies that will enable me to better support Malawian women so that they can harvest bumper yields and provide for their communities. In exchange, I will be able to share my experiences and the innovative technologies being practiced by my organization. By sharing knowledge and educating young people about the benefits of agriculture, we can improve agricultural productivity and create a sustainable means of living for youth across Africa.

Find the original blogpost on the Young Africa Works website.

This blogpost by Pilirani Khoza is part of a blog series on the Young Africa Works Summit in Kigali, Rwanda on February 16-17. YPARD will be conducting a one day pre-Summit workshop and a mentoring program to build on the youth delegates communication and networking skills in preparation for their participation at the Summit.For more information about the Summit visit the website.

Photo courtesy: Young Africa Works