Evinesi Chikhutu became a widow in 1999. Her husband had been the family’s breadwinner, and Mrs. Chikhutu was left alone with seven children and an uncertain future.
But she did inherit a quarter-hectare plot of land. At the time, it was planted with sugar cane. When her husband was alive, Mrs. Chikhutu’s family earned the bulk of their income from their annual sugar cane harvest. Her husband did piecework to keep cash coming in during the off-season.
Mrs. Chikhutu lives in the village of Mtambila, west of Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe. For ten years after her husband’s death, she continued growing sugar cane. But she found it difficult to support her family. She explains, “I needed money to take care of my children every day … most of my children stopped going to school because [I couldn’t pay] school fees.”
Eventually, Mrs. Chikhutu stopped growing sugar cane because she needed a more regular income. That’s when she discovered vegetables. She says, “I saw that vegetable growers were able to earn money more frequently.” In 2010, Mrs. Chikhutu started growing tomatoes, cabbages, rape, mustard, pumpkin leaves, and beans. Now she gets a regular income.
Mrs. Chikhutu earns about US$75 a month selling her produce at the nearby market. Her daughter takes the vegetables to market in the morning to catch the early shoppers. If the daughter hasn’t sold the vegetables by the afternoon, she has to lower the prices to avoid returning home with unsold produce. Mrs. Chikhutu thinks they could earn more at a better market.
Jimmy Witimani grows vegetables near Mrs. Chikhutu’s garden. He is happy that he earns daily cash by selling his vegetables, but he’s worried about the declining fertility of his soil. Mr. Witimani says, “Just eight years ago, we grew our vegetables using only manure from goats and chickens, but nowadays we cannot produce good quality produce without chemical inputs.”
Vegetable farming is labour-intensive during the dry season. Mrs. Chikhutu explains, “I wake up in the morning to irrigate my crops. I work until lunchtime and then, to make sure that my crops don’t wilt in the heat, I come back to irrigate for a couple of hours in the afternoon.”
Mrs. Chikhutu is happy that she can support her family and buy essentials with the income from her vegetables. Rather than having to wait for the income from her sugar cane harvest, she is now earning daily cash.
This story was originally published in November 2015.