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The grandmother facing up to the climate crisis

How Beatrice, from Malawi, faced up to drought to feed her family and provide for her grandchildren’s future.

Peter Shaw | 17 Sep 2021

Credit: Alex Baker/Tearfund

Credit: Alex Baker/Tearfund

As we seek and pray for increased global efforts to halt the worst effects of climate change, families are already suffering. In Malawi, farmers like Beatrice are struggling with the change of weather, which threatens to push them back into poverty. Meet the grandmother who is learning new skills so her family can survive.

The odds were already stacked against Beatrice, a 60-year-old grandmother who lives in a small rural village in central Malawi. The family live season-by-season and rely on the crops they grow themselves for food and – if there's any surplus to sell – extra income for essentials.

But for many years there was no surplus, in fact the harvests were reducing year-by-year. Beatrice was too busy furiously farming to consider why, but she noticed the seasons were changing. Weather patterns that families relied on for generations were becoming less predictable.

In the past, farmers like Beatrice could plant, cultivate and harvest at regular intervals. Now, increasingly, seeds sown would produce shoots that shrivelled in the ground when the rains failed to come. Or crops would be washed away after torrential floods.

'Yes, I have known hunger,' says Beatrice. 'I am not educated so I can't tell you how long it has been. But it has been a long struggle. It was difficult to grow maize. The size of the crop wasn't big enough.'

The poverty and struggles that Beatrice endures is widespread across rural Malawi, with hunger a regular occurrence. Families like hers have to grow enough food to eat because there is no backup.

Learning to farm anew

Thanks to the support of people like you, Tearfund’s local partner is helping Beatrice’s community to find more effective ways to farm and protect the local environment. They have supported families with an ingenious farming method known as conservation agriculture. It's a sustainable approach that protects soil from erosion, degradation and improves its quality and biodiversity. Conservation farming also contributes to the preservation of natural resources, water and air, while increasing crop yields.

As part of this, our local partner has been training communities on how to make their own organic fertiliser to increase soil quality. Beatrice is now an expert.

'They taught us how to produce the best fertiliser. That is what the women here do,' says Beatrice. 'Then we plough the soil and plant. We now have more maize to harvest.

'We are seeing a great change… [They are] bringing many skills into the community. Now things are much better.'

The training that Beatrice has received from our local partner has enabled her to grow enough crops to feed her family and earn an income | Credit: Alex Baker/Tearfund

The training that Beatrice has received from our local partner has enabled her to grow enough crops to feed her family and earn an income | Credit: Alex Baker/Tearfund

Dung good now

Beatrice’s new fertiliser skills and improved farming techniques mean Beatrice has surplus crops to sell at the market. This has considerably improved her family's life and living conditions.

'Thanks to my farming success, I have been able to build a house.' Poorer families build thatched roofs out of straw and leaves. Not only are they liable to leak when it rains, they're also a fire hazard in dry conditions and harbour insects and disease. These are no longer issues for Beatrice and her family. 'I have bought iron sheets to cover my house,' she says. 'So many things have improved.'

Village life has also benefited. Families no longer struggle alone as our local partner has brought people together in groups to address the wider issues facing the community such as deforestation. 'Wind storms often hit our village,' says Beatrice. 'So I joined the reforestation committee, we work together to help protect our homes.

'Now the trees are growing, I often let out a cheer when I see them. We are very, very happy.'

Beatrice is now selling enough crops she can afford to pay for her grandchildren to attend school | Credit: Alex Baker/Tearfund

Beatrice is now selling enough crops she can afford to pay for her grandchildren to attend school | Credit: Alex Baker/Tearfund

The love of Jesus

As a Christian organisation, our local partner is also demonstrating the love of Jesus to the communities they serve, and they encourage people like Beatrice in their faith.

'I trust in God,' says Beatrice. 'God gives us the assurance and strength to farm. God is very good.'

While in the past Beatrice has struggled to pay school fees for all her grandchildren, now she can afford it. 'They now have great aspirations. They tell me they want to be doctors and teachers.’

But more than that, Beatrice can now look to the future with hope. 'I joke with the children, saying that when I am old they will need to pay me back!'

Join us in prayer for families like Beatrice’s – who are facing the worst effects of the climate crisis – let us pray for hope for their future.

Pray with us

  • Thank God for how Beatrice is now able to support her family and pay for all her grandchildren’s school fees. Pray a blessing over their futures.
  • Pray for provision for families in Malawi who are facing hunger because of the changing weather patterns. Pray that help will reach those in need.
  • Pray for world leaders to take urgent action to address the climate crisis.

A version of this article appeared in Tear Times, Tearfund’s free good news magazine.

Peter Shaw

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