The Role of the Media in Achieving Zero Hunger

Benadetta Chiwanda Mia, MIJ FM Radio, Malawi

Faith Kaunde, The Nation newspaper, Malawi

Achieving zero hunger in Africa, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), requires partnerships and engagement between researchers, policy makers, and communities. The media can play an important role in communicating research to policy makers and communities. Journalists can also be a critical voice in holding policy makers accountable to the commitments they have made in national and continental agreements to achieve food and nutrition security. FSNet-Africa spoke to two Malawian journalists – Benadetta Chiwanda Mia from MIJ FM Radio and Faith Kaunde, a writer for The Nation newspaper – to understand how the media contributes to achieving Zero Hunger in Africa.

What does World Food Day mean to you as a journalist?

Faith: World food day is an important day for the world. This is a day for action against hunger, when people around the world come together with different ways to overcome hunger.

Benadetta: As a journalist, World Food Day means a lot to me, as it provides a mirror to reflect on how much journalism and the media is doing towards making the world food secure.

What role does the media play in agriculture, climate change, and food security and nutrition?

Faith: The media plays a vital role in building awareness and influencing public opinion. My role goes beyond conventional reporting. A strong media helps enable people to engage in society by offering useful sources of information for people to make informed decisions. The media can only play a leading role in informing the wider public if they themselves are aware of and knowledgeable about food security and nutrition challenges.

Benadetta: There is still a long way to go for Malawi in reaching out to the masses with relevant, up-to-date, high-content information on modern farming, food security, and climate change, and for communities to embrace new ways of doing things. I believe there is always room for improvement in reporting on agriculture, food security, and climate change, as these issues are central to human survival.

Watch Benadetta and Faith explain the important role of the media in influencing food and nutrition policies.

VIDEO : The Role of the Media in Achieving Zero Hunger

What role does the media play in influencing food security and nutrition policies?

Faith: A journalist needs to be available when policies on food security and nutrition are being tabled. There’s a need to provide the policy makers with research findings and allow them to make decisions based on facts. As a journalist, I have a role to play in influencing politicians to make the right decisions about food security and nutrition.

Benadetta: Food security is both a political and economic issue for states such as Malawi, whose economy relies mainly on agriculture. The Malawian media scores low in reporting on policy issues. As a result, farmers have not taken up these policies, because they were not disseminated to them in a way that they could understand. Most engagements with farmers happen at the policy implementation level. There is a need to intensify engagement between stakeholders, policy makers, and the media at the policy-formulation level to enable the media to link policies with beneficiaries. This will ensure that farmers are already aware and take ownership of these policies during implementation.

This blog and associated vlog is published as part of a joint campaign for World Food Day led by the ARUA-UKRI GCRF Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) in partnership with the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), the University of Leeds’ Global Food and Environment Institute (GFEI), and the GCRF-AFRICAP Project. You can follow our campaign on Twitter @FSNetAFrica or visit our partners’ websites – University of Pretoria, GFEI, and GCRF-AFRICAP.

A Reflection on Progress in Achieving Zero Hunger in Africa

Prof. Sidi Osho

Board Chairperson, Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

As we celebrate this year’s World Food Day, we have to reflect on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – Zero Hunger – with the aim of ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture. We need to reflect on how far this goal has been achieved, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is considered the greatest global health calamity of the century. COVID-19’s spread around the world is posing enormous health, economic, environmental, and social challenges for the entire human population.

African agriculture has failed to drive economic transformation on the continent. Although the continent has the capacity to produce food in surplus, it is currently a major net importer of food. In fact, food insecurity has been rising in Africa in recent years, and the continent is not on track to eliminate hunger by 2025. Many countries in Africa have made some progress towards reducing malnutrition. However, progress is too slow to meet the CAADP Malabo Declaration targets or even the 2030 SDGs.

Hear Professor Sidi Osho discuss the reasons for slow progress as well as policy options to accelerate the ending of hunger and malnutrition in Africa.

VIDEO : A Reflection on Progress in Achieving Zero Hunger in Africa

One of the key reasons for the poor agricultural performance on the African continent is the absence of a common platform to enable state and non-state actors to collaborate in a cooperative process of developing global, continental, and regional food and agriculture policies. Furthermore, most actors lack the knowledge and hands-on skills to effectively participate in agriculture policy development processes, leaving government departments to develop these alone.

At the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), we believe in investing in concerted efforts to build the capacity of ordinary state and non-state actors, including researchers, farmers, the private sector, and civil society in the field of policy. This will foster the transformation of African agriculture through meaningful engagement along the policy cycle.

I am excited about FANRPAN’s partnership with the University of Pretoria and the University of Leeds in the Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa). This project seeks to strengthen inter-disciplinary food systems research and the translation of evidence into implementable interventions to support the SDG goals related to food systems across Africa.

As we celebrate this year’s World Food Day under the theme “African Action for Zero Hunger”, remember that your voice and contribution also matters in the African agricultural transformation agenda.

This blog and associated vlog is published as part of a joint campaign for World Food Day led by the ARUA-UKRI GCRF Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) in partnership with the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), the University of Leeds’ Global Food and Environment Institute (GFEI), and the GCRF-AFRICAP Project. You can follow our campaign on Twitter @FSNetAFrica or visit our partners’ websites – University of Pretoria, GFEI, and GCRF-AFRICAP.

Simple Solutions for a Balanced Diet During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Professor Simba Sibanda

Theme Leader | Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture | FANRPAN

Since the COVID pandemic was declared a disaster by many governments in Africa and globally, restrictions have been implemented to protect the population’s health and limit the rates of infection. However, this has had a great and adverse effect on food systems and on agriculture production. Balanced diets have also been negatively impacted.

Agriculture was identified as an essential service very early on, allowing farmers to continue with production and other distribution-related activities. However, the restrictions had already caused serious disruptions to the food system. While food aid agencies moved in to support vulnerable households, most of the food baskets consisted of starchy foods. These foods provided energy, but they did not provide a balanced diet. In particular, there were not enough fruits and vegetables in these food baskets.

Naturally, when you have a disaster, balancing the diet is not high on the list of priorities. The focus is usually on ensuring that people get some energy into their systems. Consequently, perishable food, such as fruits and vegetables, are the first things to be removed from food baskets.

Hear Prof. Sibanda talk about the opportunities that exist to maintain a balanced diet through the COVID-19 pandemic.


Simple solutions to ensure a balanced diet are available. Good nutrition or home gardens can be established anywhere and by anyone. Each household, even those without access to land, can grow some vegetables for their own consumption. If they produce an excess, they could share produce with their neighbours and maybe even sell some.

Essentially, all that is needed is a growing medium – composted soil – either on a small piece of ground or in a container garden, which is basically a sack or a vegetable tower made of plastic. Not much water is needed, especially with container gardens. Within a matter of weeks, a household can have access to vegetables. Hence, even if shops do not have vegetables, you can depend on your own production. One of the challenges is that most households may not have access to seed. To address this challenge, those seeking to support communities during the pandemic can consider providing a starter pack of seed or seedlings.

This blog and associated vlog  is published as part of a joint campaign for World Food Day led by the ARUA-UKRI GCRF Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) in partnership with the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), the University of Leeds’ Global Food and Environment Institute (GFEI), and the GCRF-AFRICAP Project. You can follow our campaign on Twitter @FSNetAFrica or visit our partners’ websites – University of Pretoria, GFEI, and GCRF-AFRICAP.


Research and Innovation Priorities for African Food Systems

Dr Yemi Akinbamijo

Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)

The year 2020 has seen the worst systemic disruption of our time. The impact of COVID-19 has changed all aspects of life as we know it. This pandemic presents an enormous challenge to African food systems in terms of its impacts on production, logistics, markets, and policies. Smart solutions are required to address these impacts amidst existing challenges around food insecurity, pests, diseases, and climate change.

Food affects us all, so as we approach World Food Day on 16 October 2020, we need to think about the collective actions we need to take in order for African food systems to recover.

Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), shares his thoughts on key actions required to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger in Africa.

Video : Research and Innovation Priorities for African Food Systems

The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) is calling for continued efforts to utilise existing frameworks to harness the power of science in agriculture. Since 2014, African heads of state have endorsed the Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa as an instrument to fast-track the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), the Malabo Declaration, and other frameworks required to push the sustainable agri-science agenda forward.

In the context of Agenda 2063 and the Science Agenda, all food systems stakeholders need to embrace scientific innovations in agriculture to overcome poverty, hunger, and debt. Over 80% of food is produced by smallholder farmers, and over 70% of the workforce of the continent is based in the agriculture sector. As such, context-relevant, science-based responses to current challenges need to be devised.

Cooperation and collaboration – particularly among decision makers and policy makers – are needed to overcome food systems challenges, increase investment in agri-food systems, and end hunger in our lifetime.

This blog and associated vlog  is published as part of a joint campaign for World Food Day led by the ARUA-UKRI GCRF Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) in partnership with the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), the University of Leeds’ Global Food and Environment Institute (GFEI), and the GCRF-AFRICAP Project. You can follow our campaign on Twitter @FSNetAFrica or visit our partners’ websites – University of Pretoria, GFEI, and GCRF-AFRICAP.

Dr Yemi’s video

African Action for Zero Hunger: FSNet-Africa launches World Food Day Campaign

The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) is partnering with the University of Pretoria (UP) and the University of Leeds (UoL) with support from the Global Food and Environment Institute (GFEI) to host a ARUA-UKRI GCRF Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) virtual campaign leading up to the World Food Day on 16 October 2020. The World Food Day is celebrated to commemorate the establishment of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), with the general focus being on food security, nutrition, and agricultural transformation.

Under the theme “African Action for Zero Hunger”, our campaign will focus on food system policy choices to achieve SDG2 in Africa. The campaign will comprise four components: a series of policy-focused vlogs (short, pre-recorded video messages accompanied by a written blog) to be published in the two weeks leading up to World Food Day (i.e., from 1 October to 15 October), written opinion pieces that will be published in popular scientific media, a webinar to be held on World Food Day (16 October), and a policy brief that synthesises the policy recommendations highlighted in the vlogs and opinion pieces.

Please follow our campaign on this page. You can also follow the campaign on Twitter @FSNetAfrica, @FANRPAN, @GlobalFoodLeeds @gcrfafricap, LinkedIn @FANRPAN, Facebook @FANRPAN, YouTube @FANRPANmedia or visit our partners’ websites over the next two weeks – GFEI and GCRF AFRICAP.

Household Budgeting Simplified

By Bertha Munthali

Boloso Sore District, Gidohoma Kebele, Southern Ethiopia

ATONU-NEWlogo-lowres (1) - CrppedOne of the observations made during preliminary surveys conducted before the launch of the ATONU pilot project was the absence of dietary diversity in rural Ethiopia and Tanzania. With this is mind, one of the focus areas of the ATONU intervention was social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) aimed at influencing income expenditure from sale of chickens and eggs to purchase other nutritious foods to improve household diets. This meant the need to train community members on budgeting and dietary diversity.

In August, five months into project implementation, I accompanied Zemen Zekeriyas, the ATONU Field Assistant to Bosolo Sore District to visit Gigo Homba village that was participating in the ATONU project. All along the 30 kilometre drive, the streets were filled with farmers carrying all sorts of food stuffs to the market. At that time of the year, the place was all green with the smell of freshness filling the air. The donkeys trudged slowly down the muddy and slippery road burdened with green bananas, mangoes, potatoes, and various food items with their owners behind them. The variety of food items would give one the impression that the people of this area enjoyed a diversified diet contrary to the baseline results for Ethiopia. I wondered why with so much food, the average dietary diversity score was 2-3 and noted it down as a point of follow up with the community. I needed to understand how they made choices and decisions on the food they consumed. I also noted that this place had all the food stuffs required for a healthy plate.



The Field Assistant’s presentation

On the day in question Zemen had planned a session on financial planning and budgeting. This was a critical component of the ATONU intervention because dietary diversity is a function of communities’ understanding of financial planning and household budgeting.


The attendance was good, 18 men and 36 women, 5 of which are the group leaders. Half of participants have come as couples, a feature that the project is encouraging to ensure higher male participation. It has not been possible to have both husband and wife in one session; they swap attendance, with one attending the project events, whilst the other attends to household chores. Zemen’s delivery for today was very basic but effective. He started with a recap of the previous session which, I gather, had been on dietary diversity, and focusing on the 6 food groups of Ethiopia. He asked the participants to mention the foods within the 6 food groups in their area; what they had eaten the previous day, and for breakfast. Zemen also sought to establish the participants’ challenges in diversifying their diet during the previous week.


The attendance was good, 18 men and 36 women

From the responses, staples and legumes topped the list of foods consumed; vegetables, eggs and milk come second; chicken was not mentioned. Upon further probing, we learned that chicken remains a food item reserved largely for festivals. The community had a variety of fruits and vegetables, legumes, tubers and roots. They had livestock. I quickly established that the farmers in attendance had adequate knowledge of the diverse foods but had consumed mainly staples and legumes the previous night and that morning, with a little from other sources not consumed on a daily basis. There were 2 pregnant women in the group and 2 breastfeeding mothers. I planned is to have an in-depth chat with them at the end of the session, to get a clearer picture of their diet during and after pregnancy.



Zekeriyas Household Budgeting Tool

After the food, Zemen enquired about the farmers’ sources of income. Farming topped the list. He also asked questions to establish the prevailing household decision making processes, especially on who decided on what to buy, or how to use the household income; how they arrived at the financial decisions they made. Having introduced categories for basic priorities, to include Loan, Food, Farm inputs, Clothing/festivals and Savings, the Field Assistant used a simple locally-made teaching and learning tool that allowed farmers to establish priority lists. Zemen relied on gender based break away sessions with groups consisting of up to 6 farmers to debate and discuss their priority lists in view of their projected income, and providing justification for their decisions. The same sex group work was meant to understand the differences in how men and women prioritised the use of their income and how that affected household nutrition.



Feedback Session

It was interesting to note that different people had different priorities for income use at household level. From the feedback sessions after the debates, Food emerged as the top priority; followed by paying back the loan; inputs, clothes and savings, in that order. There were some differences of opinion on the priority list, with farmers expressing their views. Some farmers insist that Loan should be top because “a person who owes others has no respect and dignity in the community”. Others believed Food is the top priority, highlighting that families cannot be productive with it. There was a lot of debate which the Field Assistant allowed, with farmers trying to win their colleagues over on what to their priority lists. In closing, the Field Assistant emphasised the need for making a proper plan of finances, making sure that households were able to purchase nutritious food to supplement that which they grew at home.


The session ended with the Field Assistant giving assignments to the farmers to try to make simple budgets for different food items. For example, farmers were tasked to allocate funds against food items from the 6 food groups that they did not grow but needed to buy from the market.

Establishing Local Communities of Practice

By Bertha Munthali

ATONU-NEWlogo-lowres (1) - Crpped

Ensuring project sustenance has been a major challenge of many a developmental project. In most cases, the practices promoted by a project are abandoned as soon as the project discontinues. The challenge has always been to ensure that beneficiaries institutionalise the promoted practices and behaviours such that they continue long after the project. With this in mind, the ATONU project sought to institutionalise the behavioural changes that it promoted through the package of four components that it was promoting, namely;

  • Nutrition and hygiene behaviour change communication (BCC) to improve consumption of diverse foods, including chickens and eggs at household level.
  • BCC for influencing income expenditure from sale of chickens and eggs to purchase other nutritious foods to improve household diets;
  • BCC for women empowerment and gender equity in chicken value chains to improve women’s participation in joint household production and women’s time use.
  • Household vegetable production to improve consumption of vegetables and dietary diversity.

To ensure sustenance of the impacts of these components, the ATONU project focused on the establishment of vibrant Communities of Practice (CoPs), discussed below;

Village Cooking Clubs

According to the baseline and formative research carried out in the beneficiary project areas, many babies are fed on plain porridge of maize or rice floor during infancy – their most critical phase of growth and development. As a result, babies miss out on the key nutrients required to avoid succumbing to malnutrition, including hidden hunger.

In line with the need to improve consumption of diverse foods, including chickens and eggs at household level, Village Cooking Clubs were established. Whilst initially led by the project’s Field Assistants, Champions were identified amongst the community members, and were equipped with necessary knowledge and training aids to enable them to continue after project discontinues. Apart from promoting consumption from across the different food groups, the project identified a need to train community members on improved methods of transforming their basic foods, are mainly starches, into nutritious foods enriched with the right nutrients from local sources, thus improving nutrient intake. Apart from food preparation, community members are trained on the right quantities of food for children of different ages; the appropriate frequency of feeding; and the need for hygiene during food handling, preparation and feeding.

Cooking sessions are held twice a month, and are attended by up to 40 community members, with some bringing their under-five children. At the end of every cookery session, the children and their parents eat the food, while the Field Assistant, the Champions and the adults evaluate each recipe based on factors like consistency, like ability and nutrient value.


Children enjoying a chicken & vegetable meal

From these sessions, community members have grown to appreciate that ‘knowledge is power’. They now understand that malnutrition or the absence of balanced diets is not a result of people not having food. Rather, it is a function of the lack of the right knowledge with which to address their feeding regime. The ATONU intervention does not bring anything significantly new, choosing instead to emphasise that communities rely on local food stuffs that they are familiar with to achieve optimal diets for infants and entire families.


The impact of the Village Cooking Clubs can be attested to by participating villagers who have seen marked transformations since the advent of the cooking sessions.


7 months old Erick

“I did not know that my 7 month old baby can eat vegetables and chicken, or meat. I just did not know how to prepare these foods for a baby, until I learnt from the ATONU cookery sessions”, said a local woman from Konga village, going on to explain that she learnt how to make nutritious meals for her son, Erik. Mrs Theresia Francis is one of the farmers who by the time ATONU was introduced, was heavily pregnant with her third child. According to her, her first two children did not benefit as much from the knowledge as Erick has done. With newly acquired knowledge and unlike with the other two, Erick has benefitted from being exclusively breast fed, with complementary foods being introduced only at six months.


Initially, baby food was difficult to make, however, with ATONU training, she has learnt how to include chicken, other meat and vegetables in the baby’s food.  She now appreciates that apart from carbohydrate based porridge made from rice (uji) or maize, Mrs Theresia Francis, now has a choice of using potatoes and green bananas to ensure that the child’s plate has input from at least four out of the six recommended food groups.

School Nutrition Clubs


A girl explaining the food she would choose for her breakfast

School Nutrition Clubs are a response to the need for nutrition knowledge in schools. Knowledge on nutrition should be promoted not only for being graded, but for everyday use. During the theatre performances, all the twenty participating communities indicated the need to have their children learn nutrition in schools.

In addition, preliminary surveys conducted on some of the schools, indicated that 80% of the children go to school on empty stomachs for varied reasons, but lack of food and limited time to prepare and consume breakfast were some of the given reasons. In addition, many children were not able to explain why they needed to have proper nutrition, which could be another reason why food consumption was not prioritised in the morning.

With this, the project is bringing on board after-school nutrition clubs to increase awareness of good nutrition for school-going children. Some of the activities lined up within the clubs include, school vegetable gardens, dance and drama, food card games, sports, comics and others.


ATONU Champions in Tigray, Ethiopia

By Geremew Kumlachew

ATONU-NEWlogo-lowres (1) - Crpped

Mr. Embaye Berhane and Mrs. Atsede Tsegay are a couple from Hadush Adi village in Tahtay Maychew district in the central zone of Tigray region They are ACGG-ATONU project beneficiaries who have managed to transform their lives in line with the lessons from the ATONU project, and as a result, have been selected as outstanding role models in the village.



Mr. Embaye Brhane and Mrs. Atsede Tsegay
Source: Shumye Belay, Tigray ACGG SNC

Having received 25 Kuroiler chickens from ACGG, four died, leaving the couple with 10 cocks and 11 hens. Armed with knowledge from the ATONU project, the couple managed to implement and derive benefit from the intervention package, especially the thrusts focusing on nutrition and hygiene behaviour change communication aimed at improving consumption of diverse foods, including chickens and eggs at household level and influencing income expenditure from sale of chickens and eggs to purchase other nutritious foods to improve household diets. Out of the ten cocks, six of them were sold at local market with a price of ETBirr180 per bird, giving a total income EtBirr 1,080, which could go towards the purchase of supplementary foods that the family did not produce. At 24 weeks, eight hens started laying eggs, and because of the couple’s exceptional management, the hens lay every day, resulting in a weekly yield of 56 eggs. 75% of the eggs are sold at the local market at a price of ETBirr3 each, leaving behind 14 eggs for a family of four, thus averaging 3 eggs per person per week. The couple emphasized that they will never sell their hens since they are a source of our income and food (eggs), considering instead to sell and eat meat from the cocks.


They get 56 eggs per week

Whilst acknowledging ACGG for the chickens, the couple thanked the ATONU project forteaching them how to prepare and consume a balanced diet, acknowledging that their nutritional status has improved. Mr. Embaye had this to say, “After engaging with the ACGG-ATONU project, our hygiene and sanitation status has improved. We are feeding our children and ourselves using different kinds of food groups at a time.”


The patriarch also embraced the ATONU thrust on the need to promoting the empowerment of women and gender equity and efforts towards improving women’s participation in decision making. The ATONU project also emphasized the need to relieve women with household chores to enable them to have more time to rest and recuperate, as well as tend to the children. To achieve this, Mr. Embaye helps his wife by participating in the feeding, watering, health care of the chickens, as well as erecting and repairing the chicken coop. ATONU project is teaching farmers on the importance of empowering women.


Mr. Embaye Berhane and Mrs. Atsede Tsegay are happy to become one of the successful beneficiary households in the village at this early stage of the project’s implementation, and look forward to being equipped with knowledge and aids to enable them to teach others.


Read more on ATONU





ATONU-NEWlogo-lowres (1) - CrppedA Leader is a person who influences a group of people towards the achievement of a goal. If this definition is anything to go by, then ATONU’S group of exceptionally performing farmers, appointed as champions to support other farmers on a path towards achieving good nutrition, are leaders. Unlike many projects that start out appointing volunteers to work with in the village based on recommendations, ATONU took a different approach. The project had initially planned to work with existing volunteers in the village and who are mostly identified under government projects. However, the plan did not get through as these volunteers had competing duties from other projects as well as government. At the same time, the understanding of volunteer in the case of ATONU was slightly different from the conventional understanding, considering that the project needed people who can live by the principles advocated in the ATONU project.  It would have been premature to appoint volunteers to motivate other farmers while they themselves did not live the talk.




ATONU Champions after a half day session on their role as champions- Lipangalala village in central zone Tanzania

Six months   after the start of project implementation, ATONU field assistants (FAs), with the help of farmers, identified from among the targeted farmers, those who demonstrated meaningful adoption of promoted behaviours (early adopters). These farmers started out just like everyone else, attending sessions and practicing some of the promoted behaviours. They did not have advantaged or preferential treatment, but showed commitment to learn and live the ATONU way. ATONU as a project needed these ambassadors, the Balozi, as they are called in KiSwahili. These farmers, who may be considered as positive deviants, are the right volunteers to carry the message “ If I can do it, so can you” to other farmers. Their primary role is to live by ATONU desired lifestyles on nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, empowerment, thereby getting other farmers motivated to do likewise. Not only is this their role, they are also the voice of ATONU on behalf of others during village meetings. They are going to support ATONU field staff engage other farmers during home visits. One lesson learnt in ATONU project is that farmers are more receptive to the voice of their own, someone they know and interact with daily.



ATONU Champions during the session. Lumemo village central zone Tanzania

For an ordinary farmer, taking on this role means understanding the objectives of ATONU project, and like every leader who influences a group of people towards certain objectives, the ATONU Balozi are an asset every village needs to have. Development practitioners have argued and proved that social capital is an asset for developing local communities, and in the case of ATONU, engaging Champions/Ambassadors is building a strong social capital for achieving nutrition and health outcomes.   Similarly, for policy makers, considering local level social capital for any development goals will be key.



Read more on ATONU

By Bertha Lilian Mkandawire Munthali, FANRPAN Nutrition Specialist

Irrigation changed my life in times of El Nino

By Sithembile Mwamakamba

20 June 2016

“The drought is there but we cannot complain and say we have been severely affected, infact we have been helping our neighbors by employing them as general hands in our farms”.  This was one general sentiment I heard when I visited farmers in Silalatshani in Filabusi, Insiza District less than a 100kms from Bulawayo in  south of Zimbabwe, a country that is suffering the worst  drought since 1992  and exacerbated by one of the most extreme El Niño impact in past 15 years.


According to the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCH), El Nino has left an estimated 31.6 million people across Southern Africa food and nutrition insecure. In Zimbabwe approximately 3 million rural Zimbabweans —almost a quarter of the country’s population—are in need of food aid as the drought has adversely affected crop supplies. In February this year, the Government of Zimbabwe declared a state of disaster and issued a 2016-2017 Drought Disaster Domestic and International Appeal for assistance.

It was then surprising to hear farmers from Silatshani, an area that is subject to seasonal droughts and severe dry spells even during the rainy season, say they have not been affected by the drought. So how have these farmers survived and even thrived to an extent of employing their neighbors?

Agnes Mkhatshwa has weathered the drought quite well she believes, and she attributes this to being a member of the Silalabuhwa Irrigation Scheme, which is arguably one of the largest irrigation schemes in the Matabeleland South province of Zimbabwe.

The scheme boasts of 442.8 hectares of arable land and a ready supply of water from the nearby Silalabuhwa Dam, which when it is full holds 23,454 million cubic metres of water. Crop and livestock production and off-farm employment are the main sources of livelihoods for farmers.

Agnes is one of 845 farmers who farm an average of 0.5 hectares of land through a flood-based system of irrigation. In 2014, Agnes was selected to be part of a group of 20 farmers participating in a project, funded by the Government of Australia’s Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and implemented by a consortium of partners who include the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), which is cushioning the effects of the drought. The project “Increasing irrigation water productivity in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe through on-farm monitoring, adaptive management and Agricultural Innovation Platforms” aims to find means of meeting the African government’s plans for greater food security while using limited water resources more sustainably.

“I long stopped dryland farming because the crops dry up and I was always making a loss. I now do all my farming under irrigation because with irrigation there is no loss. This past year was declared a drought year, but as a farmer in the irrigation scheme, I was not terribly affected by the drought, like my neighbors who practice only dry land farming.” she said as she was cutting and sorting enormous sweet potatoes tubers preparing to take them to the market in Bulawayo.

“Of course we did experience some changes in terms of water distribution and quantities because our dam was not 100% full as with other years. However, the project we are on has helped us to monitor the water in our soils so we do not just water randomly. We use the Chameleon to see if there is enough water in the soil, if not then we water”; she further testified

The chameleon Agnes is referring to is the Chameleon Soil Water Sensor. The sensor measures tension and gives an output resembling a traffic light i.e. green (plenty of water) orange (transition) and red (running out of water) at three depths. The design of the traffic light sensor combines a deep understanding of science in soil water measurement techniques and the social process of adaptive learning, particularly amongst smallholder farmers.


Amidst the worst drought in recent years in Zimbabwe, the project seems to be recording some impressive successes. During the recent project mid-term evaluation, farmers shared how they have made significant increases in yield, they have cut down significantly on the amount and frequency of irrigation, which has resulted in them having more off farm time to focus on caring for school going children.

For Agnes, she has seen the benefits of being an irrigator as she shared that “Irrigation has really changed my life. I now produce high value crops such as garlic, butternut and sugar beans. With the money I get, I am sending my daughter to university, I have never once missed a payment of her school fees and even the boarding house where she stays, I pay the lodging fee on time, and I have never had any problems”.

The ACIAR funded project started in July 2013 and will end in June 2017. It intends to influence national and multi-lateral policies for water, agriculture and food security by providing evidence to enhance sustainability components concerning water and small holder-irrigation.  For Agnes and other farmers in Silalatshani, they hope that the project will be up scaled to include more farmers so that they too can say irrigation changed their lives!

Sithembile Mwamakamba is the Programme Manager for the Climate Smart Agriculture Cluster at the Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)