Iíve seen for myself how a lack of knowledge, education and support can be a killer. That's why itís wonderful when the provision of knowledge truly enables a village or district. Thatís whatís happened in Dowa, Malawi, where Concern Worldwide are making a real difference.
Hereís an extract from The Guardianís Christmas Appeal that tells the story:
ďA lack of knowledge as much as a lack of rain killed Rosemary Million's husband during the drought that ravaged Malawi three years ago.
The failure of the family's maize and tobacco crop meant their 10 children often went without food for days and Mrs Million's husband slowly weakened and died. But she, along with thousands of other poor small-scale farmers, has now been taught simple new agricultural techniques by the charity Concern Worldwide that are radically improving their harvests and will allow them to cope more effectively should the annual rains fail again.
Conversely, traditional wisdom had been that cassava and sweet potato vines should be given room to grow, whereas the opposite is true: they grow faster when they are forced to compete for light. This method allows farmers to make cuttings and produce a field up to 20 times the size of the original plot.
Villagers were also trained to build seed banks that kept out the rats and moisture, as well as to apply chemicals to destroy the rapacious large grain borer weevil, a pest introduced in food aid from overseas.
But perhaps the most revolutionary change was teaching farmers how to grow more than one crop of maize in a year. Maize is traditionally grown during the winter rainy season, but there are many wetland areas that are perfect for growing maize during the dry season once simple drainage has been introduced.
Damiano Tinala, 32, who is married with six children, is one of the farmers to benefit from the scheme. He survived the drought by selling firewood, but now feels he is in a far better position to cope with another one.
"The lessons I learnt from the communal gardens I have now introduced into my own land. I have learnt to grow tomatoes in the rainy season which will get me three times the price of those I grow earlier in the year. I now grow maize in stages so that it is available throughout the year.
"I had no knowledge before that I could grow it more than once a year. As a result, my wife is happy that she can feed the children all through the year.
"If Concern had not come to this area, my life would not be the same as it is now.
"But if they had come and just told me about these things, then I would have found it hard to believe. It would have been meaningless. But because we have seen it happen before our eyes, we can now embrace it."
Hannock Mphande, Concern's extension and training supervisor for Dowa district, said that before the charity arrived the drought led to mothers turning to prostitu tion to raise money and crime was rising sharply. Those problems have almost disappeared.
"It really is a miserable life when someone has no control over their lives. But we are empowering them by showing they can improve their lives using resources that are already available to them."
What your cash can buy:
Could help buy 17kg of maize seed (local)
Could help buy seven shovels or 14kg of agro-forestry seeds
Could help buy a manual treadle pump
Click here to read the rest of The Guardian report on how villagers and helping to sow the seeds of hope.