Location: Chibvala & Mtunthama EPA
Soil is a vital input for farming with fertility status, moisture levels, and management practices contributing to farmer yields.
We used farmer meetings in the villages where the project was situated and collected soil samples that were further analyzed. The results of the analysis were disseminated at workshops conducted in Dowa and Kasungu districts.
These workshops facilitated a rare interaction between soil scientists and farmers on relevant topics: how to manage and improve soil fertility, how to conserve moisture and crop management practices to increase yields. Farmers from all the villages were invited to attend the soil presentation.
First, researchers provided village soil results to farmers as a group. The soils in both districts are Lixisols, slightly acidic and with a demonstrated increase in clay content with depth; clay is predominantly kaolinite with limited capacity to hold nutrients. Care was taken to explain what these results mean for agriculture and management practices. For example, the research team emphasized that the dry savannah region soils do not hold much organic matter and lack a well-developed soil structure. If these soils are left unprotected (as is the case if fields are left bare, with no biomass), a crust may develop which prevents rain entering the soil, leading to soil erosion.
Researchers then used fertilizer charts and a research-team designed ISFM calendar which incorporated pictures to demonstrated some ISFM technologies and practices. Farmers learned techniques such as use of NPK fertilizer in maize in combination with organic inputs such as tobacco pellets if available, manures, crop residues, and integration of legumes in the farming system. In addition to improving soil organic matter from crop residues, legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen into inorganic forms that can be used by plants (biological nitrogen fixation). Furthermore, famers with previous experience with ISFM technologies were able to relate their experiences implementing these practices to fellow farmers; these farmers also described their experience with benefits of the technologies related to conserving moisture and soil nutrients.
After researchers had discussed regional and village soil characteristics, household whose fields were sampled received their plot-specific soil reports and were given a chance to discuss these reports with the research team.
Finally, the research team held group discussions focusing on the following questions with farmers: How clear was the information presented in these individual and group recommendation meetings; Given these recommendations, do you think you will change your practices; Given these recommendations, do you think you will be able to achieve a higher yield for maize next year. The team recorded farmer responses to these questions as well as other topics and questions that came up during these discussions.
Farmers welcome the workshop and even emphasized that it was the first time that they had received soil test results and recommendations. Farmers further emphasized that such initiatives should continue in their village as contact with extension workers is quite limited and infrequent. Farmers said that they will put into use ISFM technologies such as conservation agriculture, inter-cropping, manures application, crop residues, integration of legumes in the farming system and use of chemical fertilizer when resources are available in the 2019/20 growing season. Interestingly, farmers also reported that some of the practices are in use as some projects emphasize on the too. Some further requested that there is a need for demonstration plot for them to appreciate some of the practices/technologies.