Majority farmers in the country are wearing smiling faces because they will have bumper harvests this harvesting season.
Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fews Net) recently projected that the country is going to harvest three million metric tonnes at the end of 2016/2017 growing season.
Although the harvests could have been better than this if the country had not been attacked by armyworms in about 20 districts, Malawians can still afford a smile because of the bumper yields in most households.
The tobacco market has also been opened and farmers are happy that they will have money in the pockets. In short, everyone is happy because the crop dictates the direction of Malawi’s economy.
But turning to the other side of the coin, it is the same harvesting and selling season when domestic gender-based violence (GBV) rises. Yes, this is the time we hear through several media platforms that a certain man in a certain village has returned home empty-handed after imprudently spending all the money he earned from tobacco sales.
Indeed, this is the time we hear that a certain man has divorced his wife and married a new one after becoming senseless with the money he earned from soy bean sales. This is also the time the father in the home becomes untouchable because of the money from maize sales.
The sad thing is that during the growing season, all the family members participate in agricultural activities. Husband, wife and children join hands and do the farming. They brace the heavy rains to remain at the garden with hope that a brighter day will come at the end of the season.
The wife looks forward to the day she will go and buy new zitenje (wrappers) and also furnish her kitchen with new utensils. The children also help in the farming with hope that they will go to school without worries because school fees will be available in the home. While these family members hold such hopes, it is unfortunate that at times the husband/father looks forward to a day he will spend all the money on boozing.
In Malawi’s agriculture sector, women provide 70 percent of the workforce and produce 80 percent of food for home consumption. Apart from the disparities between men and women in their access and control over agriculture production resources such as land, credit, extension services, farm implements and inputs, women also become victims of their own or family crop harvests as men tend to spend all the money outside the home. This is GBV of highest order.
During harvesting time, it is also when most of the men and women travel from one place to another to sell or buy farm produce. For the reckless men and women, this period exposes them to HIV infection. Agriculture Sector Gender, HIV and Aids Strategy (2012-2017) notes that there is inadequate marketing infrastructure in the rural areas which forces male and female farmers to market their goods and products in distant urban areas for extended periods which in turn makes them susceptible to HIV infection.
The strategy booklet says the weekly markets which normally operate until late and also serve as recreation points cause urban-rural and rural-urban mobility of people, thereby increasing their vulnerability. Scarcity of agricultural produce and inputs in the rural marketing points results in scramble for the same which makes the women who have triple (productive, reproductive, community) to become desperate, hence involving themselves in sex for priority access. On the other hand, men who are in charge take advantage of the desperate situation and demand sex as payment for preferential access. The national HIV prevention strategy (2015-2020) also concurs with the above-mentioned strategy, saying separation of partners due to job mobility is now among major drivers of HIV infection.
When you visit popular trading centres such as Mponela in Dowa, Dwangwa in Nkhotakota, Liwonde in Machinga, and Jenda in Mzimba during crop selling season, you see how people mainly male farmers become reckless with their hard-earned money. The wife back home still waits for her chitenje and hair mesh in vain as the husband spends all the money on beer. What they forget is that another farming season is coming and that there is need for them to start preparing immediately after selling the current harvests.
It should be noted that agriculture is a continuous process. It is not once-off practice whereby once you have harvested, you should spend all the money you earn from the tobacco, maize or soy bean sales and start all over again in the next agricultural season. Farmers should aim high by climbing up the ladder. If a farmer bought and used 10 bangs of fertiliser in 2016/2017 growing season, it is good to move up the ladder by now buying 15 or more bags of fertiliser for 2017/2018 growing season. It does not need formal education in agriculture or economics for a farmer to know and understand this reality. Many Malawian farmers are hard working but the problem is on how they spend their money after selling the produce.
The harvesting and selling season is not the time to familiarise oneself with all popular trading centres in the district and booze till dawn as if there were no tomorrow. Tomorrow will always come, and, a farmer, like any other person, makes a better tomorrow by having good preparations today. Spend the money responsibly. This is the time to plan expansion of your farming.
Farmers should not allow their own money to lead them to HIV infection. By the way, Aids is real. HIV and Aids negatively affects the agriculture sector. The effects of HIV and Aids on agriculture include loss of persons in their most economically productive years due to death which affects both the quality and quantity of agricultural labour. Aids-related illnesses and deaths have resulted in loss of assets, income, intergenerational and technical skills, knowledge and practices, thereby negatively affecting agriculture production and productivity.