The Earth knows no language but love

Ada hold some of his harvest.
By Meg Ewald
April 4, 2017

Ada is a farmer in my village. He's small, thin, rarely wears shoes, and has a wide smile that reminds me of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. 

Ada is a subsistence farmer, like most people in Malawi. He doesn't speak any English or Chichewa, and is only really comfortable speaking Chitonga— a language with fewer than 300,000 native speakers. Ada is also one of the most intelligent and innovative farmers I've ever met.

Ada is one of those people that Peace Corps Volunteers dream about meeting. He embraces every project you put his way, working incredibly hard and going the extra mile to ensure its success, then teaching others to do the same. He even comes to me with project ideas, asking me to help him find resources to make it happen.

When I first came to my village, I noticed Ada was the premier agroforestry farmer in my area. In the last five years alone he has raised over 10,000 seedlings, some of which he plants on his property, others he sells. His tree nursery is beautiful, built from living poles of acacia and shaded by passion fruit vines. I don't even mind that it's built at Malawian height, and that I have to stoop to see the rows and rows of tree seedlings growing in neat lines.  

His farm is one of my favorite places in my village. His house is surrounded by flowering rose vines and fruit trees. It's shady, with dozens of old growth trees and succulents and medicinal plants growing in basins around the property. His farm is a peaceful place. It is there that his wife cooks on a fuel efficient cook stove, and he keeps herds of goats and flocks of hens. With the income he has generated through these activities he puts his three daughters and one son through school, has furnished his house with solar panels, and even opened a bank account.

Ada sits under some vines at his house.
Ada sits in the shade with his seedlings

It seems like Ada has dabbled in every environmental or agricultural practice I've ever heard mentioned in Malawi. He uses contour planting to grow cassava on the steep hillsides, and he intercrops maize and nitrogen fixing pigeon pea in the dambo. In areas he's farmed maize for several years he plants groves of nitrogen fixing acacia trees with no intention of cutting them for poles or nkhuni (firewood); he simply wants to see the land healthy. His fruit tree orchards are a work of art—guava, mango, lemon, orange, avocado and even apples. Spaced in between the shaded lines of trees he plants pineapple shrubs, and at the bottom of the hill grow thick masses of banana trees. I never fail to leave his farm without a chikwama (bag) bursting with succulent, fresh fruit.

Recently, an NGO called CIP (International Potato Center) was hosting a training in a nearby city and requested that we bring local counterparts. I, of course, thought of Ada, but others warned me that it would be difficult bringing an illiterate, minority language speaker to a formal training. However, the training went perfectly. Someone from CIP translated the documents and lectures into Chitumbuka for Ada, and he was actively involved in the demonstrations and discussion.

When we returned to our home district, Ada led the trainings for fifty of our farmers who would receive orange flesh sweet potato vines. He also prepared a mother plot on his own property, establishing a place to multiply and distribute 6 varieties of orange flesh sweet potatoes (OFSP) to other members of our community. The project was a resounding success, and the potatoes should be set to be multiplied and harvested within six months. These potatoes are rich in vitamin A, and will help to improve nutrition within our community. The amount of technical understanding Ada has about this project is only overshadowed by his enthusiasm for teaching others. I am so lucky to have him working on this project, and I know that he will continue to multiply and distribute vines long after my service has completed.