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My Journey from Soil to Soul | Jazzakah Mapasa

Continuation of our series, see previous post.

I go by the name Jazzakah Mapasa, working as project assistant for Schools and Colleges Permaculture (SCOPE) Malawi. I come from Malawi, a country where farming is the backbone of its economy. Farming has always fascinated me. As a kid growing up on my father’s farm, I couldn’t differentiate culture from farming. Farming has always been part of my life; in the mornings, whilst helping me prepare for school, my parents would be preparing themselves to go to the farm. On my way back from school, I knew there will be no one at home since everyone was still at the farm. Holidays were spent in the farm helping with what we could.

I grew up with the idea that having a farm was ‘normal’ and that everyone’s father had a farm which he would eventually pass onto his children.

As I grew older, I started noticing that things were hard on the farm. We had to rely on the rains for good harvests, and drought years were becoming more and more common and our crop harvests were not good despite more inputs (fertilizers) being put on the farm. The fact is, that in Malawi food security is measured in relation to the availability of maize (corn), which mostly do not do well. There are thousands of crops (nutritious traditional crops) that have been neglected or underutilized for a long time now, such that this has led to corn dependency situation in the country. Wanting to help my family and community to get out of the desperate hunger situation that was looming, I decided to study agriculture education at university. Until I started work at SCOPE Malawi, I never knew that the little knowledge I had gained in college, many of the techniques actually exacerbates poverty and hunger situations (The problems I aimed to run from)!

Through the years government agencies and other organisations have tried to bring in communities with the so-called strides to end hunger and ensure food security throwing new conventional ways of farming, but still situations are getting worsened. Malawi is still one of the poorest in the world, 50 percent living below the poverty line. 25 percent extreme poor, (4 million are children). Poverty hits children hard and threatens their basic rights to survival, health and nutrition and education. Such that stunted growth in children results in under-performing, resulting in dropouts and repetitions. Most of the communities cannot afford two meals a day, such that children go to school hungry. Whilst at the school, the schools are completely bare grounds and dusty ending in children sweeping the ground everyday with an empty stomach.

With SCOPE Malawi I help schools become productive and meet the nutritional, educational needs of learners through agro-ecology and permaculture practices. We assist schools and their communities, transform their land from bare and dusty unproductive land which they sweep everyday into productive land with healthy food and fruits which children enjoy.

SCOPE uses Integrated Land Use Design (ILUD), a holistic approach/tool of developing strong working examples of productive, people oriented and ecologically healthy landscapes that strengthen the school and wider communities to be more resilient. Many of the school communities are prone to droughts, floods, and erosion, but through agroecology and permaculture practices, schools and communities are able to conserve their environment, schools are able to create food forests around the school. This fosters a sense of care for nature in the children. Our schools have become green spaces that remain green throughout the year. In most cases it is the only place that animals such as goats can find food and most schools struggle with an influx of too many animals grazing at the schools! Through water-harvesting techniques into the ground, schools have also managed to raise ground water levels, and some schools that had dry boreholes have reported higher water levels throughout the year.

Our organization also promotes the use of natural medicines and schools are encouraged to plant herbs and shrubs that help to improve their health. We promote the use of moringa, lemongrass, basil, neem, roselle hibiscus and other locally available herbs. Our designs mimics natural systems to decrease the need for outside inputs and increase biological diversity and not forgetting the 3Rs of sustainability. This in turn has facilitated school communities to adopt farming methods that help in climate change adaptation and mitigations.

My experience of working with SCOPE Malawi has helped me change my world view. I now understand that plants, soils, and the earth are complex systems in their own nature. Ability to work with them has helped me understand that our solutions are simple and are locally available. Through healthy ways of fostering relationship with the planet and community with attention to what is available around us, we provide the sustainable solutions to our problems. Rather than helping big companies destroy our planet by producing food in unsustainable and exploitative ways, we should strive for solutions that teach us become self-reliance on a basic level. Out of agroecology, permaculture, biodiversity, organic farming, and other ecological way of working with nature, climate change resolutions emerge.

My aim now is to try to reach out to young people like myself, teachers, and parents on how they can transform their lives rather than integrating into often very systems of destruction that have created the current situation. Help me bring agroecology and permaculture to our communities and create more Earth Ambassadors.

Next post from the series: From Fire Springs Life: A Geneticists Perspective | Daniel Gregory