From Rags to Riches – The Moving Story of Nice Kanyasko
In her infancy, Nice Kanyasko had her parents to fend for her and protect her from the hostile world. She grew unaware of what was in store for her. Her parents provided all her needs: food, clothes, shelter and all that was necessary for her to survive and grow. She came from a not well to do family and when she grew up she got married but her family lived from hand to mouth.
Today, Nice is A LEAD FARMER who was appointed by fellow villagers to lead them in farming activities at village level. She is a village extension worker of some sort. She is a very enterprising, innovative and industrious woman coming from Village Head Fikani Chavula which is just a stone throw away from Katonthowolo farm of Exagris, in the area of Group Village Head Malivenje Chavula under Sub Traditional Authority Mtwalo in Mzimba North. Nice is married to the Chavula family and blessed with eight children of whom five are boys and three girls.
For decades this family has been living in abject poverty, like most of the families in rural areas, they are peasant farmers who solely depend on annual income which they obtain from the sales of their crop produce. Poverty level is high in rural areas and the Nice family was not spared, especially during the lean period months of December to February when they used to survive on piece work.
In 2000, life for the Nice family reached a turning point. It all happened when they were doing piece work on one of her neighbour’s garden and on the radio there was a programme “Ulimi wa Lero” (Modern ways of Farming) and the programme was advising farmers on how to make compost manure and the method of planting one maize seed per planting station popularly known as Sasakawa. After the programme and back home, as family they sat down to discuss if they can do what they had heard on the radio. There was resistance from the husband but Nice vowed to see the benefit of doubt.
In 2001, Nice started her journey to the Promised Land. She moved from one animal khola to the other begging and collecting animal dung, and she managed to spread/apply the manure on 0.5ha part of her field. Some on-lookers mocked her that she had gone crazy but she was determined. She then top dressed the maize with Urea and obtained 50 bags of 50 kg and compared to the 9 bags of maize she harvested in the previous year this was really the turning point in her family.
In 2002, there was no time to look back. Nice this time around went on full scale living no stone unturned. The same year she became the lead farmer for the village and was trained by government extension workers. She was privileged to learn how to make different types of manure including mbeya, bokashi, liquid and compost manure. After this training Nice was now geared and equipped with new armoury and ammunition which over the years she has been able to share with fellow farmers. With her as a Lead Farmer hunger and poverty became a thing of the past to the entire village of Chilida.
In 2007, Nice grew a variety of crops such as maize, groundnuts, tobacco and soya of which after selling the surplus she was able to purchase five goats, built a house with burnt bricks and iron sheets. During winter she embarked on green maize production in her dimba garden (wetland) and managed to raise K250,000 (US$555) which she bought three cows from Rumphi market. And also part of the money was used to pay school fees for three of her children who were attending secondary education.
With the coming of Development Services Unit (DSU) at Katonthowolo farm and promoting the production of Paprika and Birds eyes chilli, she took the opportunity to grow birds eye on 0.1 ha and sold the produce for K120,000.00 (US$267) with which she bought four bags of fertilizer, ten plastic chairs and five bags of cement to improve her new house.
Currently Nice is boosting of an ox-cart, 11 herds of cattle, 19 goats, 33 chicken, brick and iron sheet roofed house, all these coming from farming. Hunger is no longer part of her life as she has planted a lot of fruit trees around her homestead as well as in her dimba. She has a garden with cassava plantain and sweet potatoes to supplement her food requirements as well as for cash.
Nice as a lead farmer has established her own demonstration garden where she displays different production technologies for a variety of crops with emphasis on organic farming. She is proud to host farmers who are willing to learn and extrapolate how she has managed to change her life and many are adopting her skills.
In 2013-2014 cropping seasons, Nice mobilised fellow villagers from Chilida and formed a group of 14 farmers. The objective of the grouping was to multiply seed of legumes as way of addressing shortage of quality seeds. The grouping then approached DSU at Katonthowolo farm to find out how they can be assisted. The DSU allocated the grouping a 0.5ha and supplied them with inputs. The group led by Nice grew groundnuts from which they harvested 1,911kg of unshelled groundnuts seed. After conducting the cost benefit analysis with the grouping the gross margin was K145,250 (US$322) from half a hectare. This is a clear indication of the impact DSU activities are bringing to the communities surrounding the farm. For Nice it is service above self!
Thus Nice Kanyasko, from rags to riches, above all – beneficial to the entire village. She estimates her annual turnover to be in the range of K1,000,000-K1,500,000 (US2,220 to US$3,330) all this coming from farming activities. Today, Nice is a role model in the village and all the smallholder farmers look up to her for knowledge and motivation.