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Lush Spring Prize Young Projects Award Winner: Soils, Food, and Health Communities

After reading this article you may never look at a legume in the same way again, for the family of pod-based plants has helped to revolutionise small-scale farming and improve life in communities right across Malawi, among other environmentally-friendly agriculture ideas, thanks to the work of Soils, Food, and Health Communities (SFHC).

The SFHC’s mission is to help provincial farmers build healthier, stronger communities by creating and sharing knowledge that consists of local indigenous expertise, farmer-led research and feedback on the latest ecological methods.

“SFHC initially began as a research project in the Ekwendeni Hospital’s Primary Health Care department,” the group explains, thinking back to 2000. “It conducted participatory research with smallholder farming households in the region to test whether different legume diversification options could improve food security and nutrition.”

The answer was a resounding yes, and over the years the research has helped over 10,000 farming households in the landlocked African country. The information was so effective in fact that recently the group made the transition to becoming a small, independent, farmer-led, non-profit organisation, which employs 12 staff, including eight farmer leaders.

“We are currently working on developing our farmer and research-training centre, which we have begun using as a venue for teaching, with an established demonstration garden for farmers to experiment with different farming methods.”

As well as trialling different varieties of legume, SFHC practices a range of agroecological approaches including agroforestry, mulching, and the use of animal manure, all of which are said to have improved food security, soil management and child nutrition.

“For us, regeneration is using a holistic approach to improve the lives of smallholder farmers in Malawi,” the group continues. “It means encouraging the use of agricultural practices that are safe, and affordable, that will improve the health of the soil, and diversify diets. Regeneration means empowering farmers to be innovators, respecting their agricultural expertise, and encouraging them to learn from one another. It is also recognising that addressing social inequity is critical to improving the lives of smallholder farmers, and building resilient communities.”

But farming techniques and legume choices aren’t the only items on SFHC’s agenda, as farmers also engage in two-way educational activities related to nutrition, health, climate change, gender, and social equity. “At the core of our work is dedication to addressing economic, health and social inequalities at household, community and national levels. We focus on the most vulnerable members of the communities we work in, including women, people living with HIV and AIDS, and widows.”

Impressed by the work SFHC has done and plans to do, the judges in this year’s Lush Spring Prize have chosen the organisation as a recipient of a Young Projects Award, which comes with a development fund of £25,000. “We are so excited about the Spring Prize, and grateful for the opportunity it is giving us to continue to establish and expand our work as an independent, farmer-led organisation in Malawi,” they say.

“Ultimately, the Spring Prize is enabling us to move our work forward toward our ultimate goal of building stronger, more resilient and equitable households and communities. With the effects of climate change already impacting the availability of food and livelihoods for smallholder farmers in Malawi, this work, and support like the Spring Prize that enables us to continue it, is more important than ever.”

Track the SFHC’s continual progress and its agroecological victories at www.soilandfood.org

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