A home-grown solution to African hunger
Imagine a modern-day Eden - tended by a cheerful garden gnome - sprouting in the Sahara Desert.
That's the feeling you get, walking onto a 50-acre farm bursting with rows of healthy corn, thick sugar-cane stalks, and plump mangoes - all at the epicenter of Africa's growing food crisis, with its 18 million hungry people.
It's tended by a sprightly grandfather named Glyvyns Chinkhuntha, a man with no formal agricultural training, but a spirit of innovation, and a reverence for Roman aqueducts. Using just hoes and shovels, he's built an elaborate gravity-driven irrigation system of earthen berms and inch-deep trenches. It's revolutionary in a country where just 2 percent of farmers' land is irrigated - despite the close proximity of a lake larger than Lake Erie in the US.
In fact, people here see Dr. Chinkhuntha as a kind of water wizard of Malawi. He's proof, some say, that despite climate change, poverty, and other obstacles, home-grown solutions do exist for Africa's recurring hunger problems.
"What he does is amazing," says Jackson Kachidede, an irrigation expert with CARE, an aid group here - especially compared to what's happening across southern and eastern Africa. Roughly 5 million of Malawi's 12 million people need more food, in part because of changing rainfall patterns. In Kenya, drought is partly responsible for a fast-growing crisis in which 4 million face starvation. In all, aid agencies say, 12 million people in southern Africa - and 6 million in east Africa - are hungry.
But not all Africa's hunger can be blamed on climate change. Consider that regional powerhouse South Africa has an enormous maize surplus - enough to feed the whole region. Yet two hunger-hit countries, Swaziland and Lesotho, are autonomous kingdoms entirely within South Africa. Their subsistence farmers are beset by problems like AIDS and lack of education.