Today we traveled even further north to visit the Mlongoti Horticulture Co-operative Society. As we rose out of Mzuzu, the weather and landscape again changed, from lush green misty hills to much warmer and drier plains stretching to the base of sharp mountains. We turned off the main road and into one of the valleys where the rocks became rounder and reminiscent of some parts of the Peak District. The river running through the valley had carved the rocks into some intricate shapes, which project manager John told us were locally believed to be wives who had been spirited away as their husbands had not paid the river the necessary dues before crossing over it. This river is the source of livelihoods for the Mlongoti Co-operative, as further up the valley it has been partially channeled into an irrigation canal which runs beside the main production area.

The co-operative members’ plots are irrigated via a number of ditches which feed into their gardens and can be opened and closed as needed. We saw cabbage, sugar beans, okra, castor, cassava, sweet potato, tomatoes, yam and banana as well as other more perishable leafy plants grown for home consumption in smaller quantities. The co-operative members talked about how they have enormously benefited from the organic fertilizer training offered by the project, saying it has not only helped their production but also helped them to stop having to use money lenders to buy fertilisers. One woman joked that her husband used to hide when the money lenders came at the times when he couldn’t afford to repay them.

I told her that also happens to people in the UK, and they were surprised that people also had similar issues with debt and poverty in Europe. Sarah emphasised that is why co-operative development and solidarity is so important, to help people develop sustainable livelihoods everywhere in the world. One of the other important outcomes of the project they were keen to share was the success of the gender training they had received through the project, saying it had made real changes in their lives and that now both men and women shared more of the domestic tasks, with men often cooking and helping to clean the house.

On our return journey Annie’s mother Mary had made a delicious traditional dish of shredded bean leaves with onion, tomato and groundnut flour for our evening meal. From plot to plate in a few hours! Annie also took the opportunity to show us the compost toilet she had built at her family home having been on the permaculture course at Kusamala, who are a project partner in the College’s work with William Jackson Food Group. She had also introduced solar lamps and even a solar television to their house through learning about ways in which to cut energy use.

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