Field Work Experiences: Anchor Farm Project

Project Overview

The Anchor Farm ISFM evaluation project was designed to assess the impact of the Clinton Development Initiative on ISFM activities. A team of six research assistants was deployed to collect information on soil quality parameters, administer questionnaires to farmers on field use, and collect GPS coordinates and farm area. Soil data collected during the 2014 survey from  Dowa and Kasungu districts acted as a baseline and similar endline data has been collected during the 2018 survey. The team spent 34 days collecting information from over 520 farmers in Dowa and Kasungu districts.

aPrecious Mtengezo's Field Experiences

As a research assistant in the anchor farm evaluation project I had the opportunity to learn in both a professional and personal capacity. Below I share some experiences and observations from my time in the field:

In a professional capacity, I learned about the technical aspects of soil sampling, use of the SoilDoc kit to analyze soils, and use of GPS tools to measure field area and coordinates. In Malawi, the use of GPS devices is limited to those people working in natural resources with little application in the agriculture sector where only few devices can be found at district level. Having an opportunity to use the GPS device and understand how the data is collected and stored has been a great privilege. From the perspective of farmers, after measuring their field area, they were informed about the field size for free, an added benefit to them since this information is usually available only for purchase. Using the SoilDoc kit, has been exciting since this is a new technology that provides immediate soil analysis. Malawi has a very small number of scientists specializing in the use of SoilDoc kits, and by being a part of this field work I had the opportunity to engage with experts in the field.

Working with farmers allowed me to gain a rare insight on farmers’ perception of various projects and different organizations that are working in their communities. An important aspect that is often overlooked is that in order to motivate the communities to participate in multi-year projects, it is imperative for the parent organizations to stipulate the objective of the projects brought to them, and its benefit to the community. Farmers from Dowa and Kasungu districts were well aware of the objectives of the Anchor Farm Project and understood the significance conducting endline evaluations and assisted the team in data collection.

The farmers have welcomed feedback from the project regarding soil health, particularly since this information is provided at no cost to the farmer. The provision of soil analysis results, the interpretation of these results, and the explanation of the correct amounts of fertilizer to apply can contribute to improved crop output for the farmers. This experience of farmer engagement on a large scale has helped me prepare for future work in extension projects.

Brian
The RA's with a target farmer (center) from Dowa district. Taken after soil sampling and administering of questionnaire.

Brian Mkanda's Field Experiences

The farmers have welcomed feedback from the project regarding soil health, particularly since this information is provided at no cost to the farmer. The provision of soil analysis results, the interpretation of these results, and the explanation of the correct amounts of fertilizer to apply can contribute to improved crop output for the farmers. This experience of farmer engagement on a large scale has helped me prepare for future work in extension projects.

RA Brian Mkanda standing in an Anchor Farm Evaluation Project field of Soybean (Glycine max) in Dowa
RA Brian Mkanda standing in an Anchor Farm Evaluation Project field of Soybean (Glycine max) in Dowa

We used the SoilDoc kit to analyse all the soil samples we collected. Personally, I have become well acquainted with soil analysis technology and practise while using the SoilDoc Kit. This is an important analytical tool that assists in tracing specific nutrients that the soil lacks, across different farmers and fields. These results form the cornerstone of our advice to farmers on field management, and enable the farmer to retain and rejuvinate the soil in essential nutrients.

The Anchor Farm Project was deemed highly successful by many farmers since they perceived that recommendations and soil analysis results helped them improve crop yields. The information was provided through directly meeting the farmers in their respective villages and through distribution of informational calenders.

RA Brian Mkanda with a participating farmer in tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) field in Dowa
RA Brian Mkanda with a participating farmer in tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) field in Dowa

Having seen the benefits of the project firsthand, I am eager and hopeful that this project will be extended across Malawi to many more districts and regions. Malawi’s future depends on agriulture, and such targeted projects are essential to the growth of the sector and the nation.

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