Crop diversification, an asset to farmers in Balaka district

Mary's garden where she grows maize on one side and cotton on the other

The Malawi agricultural sector is dominated by subsistence farming and rainfed food production systems that are facing increasing challenges from land degradation and declining soil fertility. More than 90% of the people living in rural areas are from resource-poor communities and predominantly engage in subsistence activities. Currently about 60% of the households in rural areas are food insecure for most of the year. The poor soil fertility is due in part to breakdown of traditional fallow systems, deforestation and long periods of continuous cultivation without external inputs.

Highlights

  • More than 90% of the people living in rural areas are from resource-poor communities and predominantly engage in subsistence agriculture.
  • Currently about 60% of the households in rural areas are food insecure for most of the year.
  • Sustainable Land Management approach has been adopted for 42,000 hectares of land, and this is expected to increase to 60,000 hectares by the end of 2015.
  • In Kuchande village, 95% of families have adopted the technology and are food secure

Maize is the staple food crop, and as such, the majority of farmers grow it regardless of the suitability of the land. Although improved varieties of many crops are available, farmers continue to use local maize, compounding the problem of growing unsuitable crops, particularly maize. Project Preparation Grant assessments show that although land suitability is an important predictor of productivity, decisions on what crops to grow are not based on technological information of land suitability alone. Rather, they are influenced by the fact that productivity does not translate directly into value. Farmers choose a crop which has a ready market and a promise of good prices, even when that crop is unsuitable for the soil of that particular area.

Mary Kuchande, 45, of Kuchande Village T/A Kaphenga is a lead farmer and a beneficiary of the Sustainable Land Management project in Balaka district. Aside from growing various crops on her land, she also undertakes cultivation of indigenous crops, vetiver cultivation, ridge alignment, as well as growing tree nurseries.

Mary is a proud owner of a 2 hectare land and explains “I have 2 hectares of land on which I grow different crops such as maize, soya beans, cotton, and pigeon peas and I must admit, farming has never been as exciting as it is now. My life has completely changed” said Mary Kuchande, who is also a wife to Group Village Head Kuchande.

Before this intervention, Mary’s family was food insecure. “I was only growing maize, at times I would sell some of my maize so that I can get money for other use. However, since I started growing different crops three years ago, I now have enough food as well as excess crops which I sell” explained Mary.

Group Village Head Kuchande also explains the benefit of crop diversification and how his community have welcomed the practice.

“I am the chief of this area, but I am also a lead farmer. Out of the 68 households in my village, 65 understood the importance of practicing crop diversification and I am proud to tell you that my village is a model village. I get so many visitors coming to see and learn what we are doing here”, he said.

In Kuchande village, 95% of families have adopted the technology and are food secure. This is one best practice that the Sustainable Land Management project would like to achieve in all the areas where the project is being implemented.

Within a catchment area, the project has promoted a number of different SLM technologies such as Vetiver cultivation, afforestation, conservation agriculture, ridge alignment, bushfire control, swales as well as manure production in order to achieve a multiplier effect on soil erosion control as well as restoration of degraded landscapes with improved soil fertility status. The project has yielded extremely positive results and to date, the Sustainable Land Management approach has been adopted for 42,000 hectares of land, and this is expected to increase to 60,000 hectares by the end of 2015.

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