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Danielle Nierenberg is blogging everyday from across Africa for the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet blog. She is also writing with her partner Bernard Pollack at her personal blog: BorderJumpers.
In Malawi, we visited the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, a project supported by companies like the Body Shop, providing sanctuary space for rescued, confiscated, orphaned and injured wild animals of Malawi. While touring their facility we met Kambuk (which means “leopard” in Chichewa), who was soundly sleeping in his 2,500 sq meter backyard of fenced green landscape. He was rescued by the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre after poachers shattered his knee in Nyika National Park (making it impossible for him to ever return to the wild.) As we toured the facility nearly every animal we saw — from baboons to alligators — had a similar Cinderella story of overcoming insurmountable odds to survive and, in most cases, return back to the wild.
The Center is one of the leading organizations in Malawi pushing lawmakers to enforce and enact legislation in support of wildlife conservation and environmental protection. They also develop local partnerships and training programs with the farmers and communities surrounding national parks. The struggle between protecting wildlife and agriculture is becoming especially evident as drought, conflict, and hunger continue to affect sub-Saharan Africa.
Malawi may actually be best known for its so-called “Malawi Miracle.” Five years ago the government decided to do something controversial—provide fertilizer subsidies to farmers to grow maize. Since then maize production has tripled and Malawi has been touted as an agricultural success story. But the way they are refining that corn, says Kristof Nordin who demonstrates permaculture techniques at him home with his wife, Stacia Nordin, makes it “kind of like Wonderbread,” leaving it with just two or three nutrients.
Most Malawians think of traditional foods, such as amaranth and African eggplant, as poor people foods grown by “bad” farmers. But these crops, being more nutritious and requiring less artificial fertilizer compared to hybrid varieties may hold the key for solving hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Malawi. Rather than focusing on just planting maize—a crop that is not native to Africa—the Nordins advise the farmers they work with that there is “no miracle plant, just plant them all.”
And indigenous crops can be an important source of income for farmers. Rather than importing things like amaranth, sorghum, spices, tamarinds and other products from India, South Africa, and other countries, the Nordins are helping farmers find ways to market seeds, as well as value added products, from local resources. “A lot of solutions,” he says, “are literally staring us in the face.” And as I walked around seeing—and tasting— the various crops at the Nordins’ home, it’s obvious that maize is not Malawi’s only miracle.
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