“Nkhulambe farmers have been feeding Phalombe and a good part of southern region with sweet potatoes for the past years, but now this is no longer the case,” a Phalombe resident, Harrison Chipewa has claimed.
He made this sweeping statement against a background that countless Lorries and trucks flock to Phalombe district, particularly to Senior Chief Nkhulambe’s area during sweet potato harvest season to buy in bulk from farmers in the area.
This has been good business since time immemorial and a lot of farmers managed to improve their lives through sweet potato farming as Chipewa further claimed.
“This was why a sweet potatoes market naturally formed itself at Nawale where the exchange used to happen most and now it continues to be a potatoes sale point even now after potato production has drastically dwindled in the area,” he added.
The area of Group Village Headman Mchenga under Sub Traditional Authority (STA) Phweremwe is practically distributed in halves between residential area and sweet potato fields where the people proudly say their gold lies.
According to Chipewa over the past years people of the village and surrounding villages enjoyed good production which translated into lucrative business for them.
He referred to brick houses and iron sheeted houses as some of the milestones of sweet potato production which undoubtedly forms a great part of the people’s history of the past three decades that could clearly be recalled.
It is common knowledge among the locals that irrigated production of the Sukasanje gold is the one that earns them honourable proceeds, hence the unbreakable relationship between the potato fields and Sukasanje River which feeds all the fields with surface water for irrigation.
However, amid being the people’s great companion in household economic development, one thing that has been breaking their hearts over the past five to six years is that sweet potatoes’ production is currently facing challenges due to the slow drying up of the mother source of water to the fields; Sukasanje River.
Another farmer, Thomas Maudzu said it was common knowledge that the complete drying up of the river equals the death of potato irrigation farming in the area and the obvious closure of their surface mine.
Group Village Headman, Mchenga was worried for his people whose good population he said knows no other money making way than farming.
Realizing these and many other challenges that awaits the people of Nkhulambe, the death of potato farming, people of Sukasanje during Malawi Social Action Fund (MASAF) 3 implementation attempted reforestation along the River aimed at reclaiming their once cherished water, according to Robert Namame, a member of Nkhulambe Catchment Management Committee (CMC), the trees never survived.
“So people have decided to utilize an opportunity that has risen from the National Local Government Finance Committee (NLGFC) facilitated Enhanced Public Works Programme (EPWP) to replant trees along Sukasanje River in hopes that the intervention will retain water in the River and solve all their problems,” Namame added.
District Forestry Officer (DFO) for Phalombe, Moses Mtambo said it was the best long lasting solution they could ever hope to find since planting trees along the river line helps reduce evaporation because when they grow, the trees provide shade to the water in the river so the water is not exposed to direct sun heat which facilitates evaporation.
The DFO added that trees help in reducing surface runoff which leads to increased infiltration of the water into the soil.
While the people of Sukasanje are at the verge of losing their source of livelihood to nature related problems, the solution they have sorted lies in nature itself. Now, there is hope that through replenishing and conserving nature the people will once again get their lives back.