Soil fertility is one of the determinants of agricultural productivity. Crops require different essential nutrient elements to support growth and development. Knowledge of soil properties can inform specific soil management options to use, such as the right type of fertilizer and quantity to apply. As part of agronomic interventions under the Anchor Farm Project, soil samples were collected at 0-20cm soil depth from 248 farmer plots in Chibvala EPA and 318 farmer plots in Mtunthama EPA in December 2014 and December 2015. The soil samples were analyzed for pH, active carbon, inorganic phosphorus, nitrate nitrogen, sulfur, potassium and electrical conductivity using the Soil Doc. After the lab analysis, soil test reports for each farmer plot were compiled that included information on levels of the specific soil parameters and the subsequent soil management recommendation. These soil test results were presented to farmers during workshops organized at the village level.
A summary report of the soil test results for the sampled villages including the soil management recommendation was also prepared. This report was prepared by our research assistant Christopher Phiri working with the Department of Crop and Soil Science at LUANAR. The research team organized a workshops at both EPA offices to present the report to agriculture extension officers from the government and NGOs working in the EPA.
The workshops took place on 15th February, 2019 at Chibvala and Mtunthama EPAs in Dowa and Kasungu districts, respectively. The Agricultural Extension Coordinators (AEDCs) of the two EPAs invited to the meeting all government extension officers from the sections and all field officers from NGOs implementing agriculture projects with the two EPAs. We had 11 participants from Mtunthama EPA and 15 participants from Chibvala EPA. The CDI field officer for Chibvala EPA also attended the meeting.
The first presentation was on understanding soil nutrients and their role in plant growth. This presentation covered the macro and micro nutrients required for plant growth including signs and symptoms of nutrient deficiencies. Then followed the presentation on the results of soil analysis report. The general recommendation for both EPAs was that farmers should be using the new NPK fertilizer formulation (23:10:5+6S+1.0Zn). In addition, organic inputs such as tobacco pellets, manure, crop residues, and inter-cropping with legumes should also be used. Liming is required for acidic soils to raise the pH levels only in fields were the pH is low. Both meetings were well attended which led to fruitful discussions on how the results can make a difference to smallholder farmers including field officers from other NGOs implementing interventions on Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) practices. At the end of the meeting, each participant was given a copy of the summary report.
At both meetings, participants commended the research team for bringing results of the soil study to the farmers and the extension officers. For them, this was the first time to receive feedback from such type of research studies. They asked the research team to continue with such initiatives as they help in solving some of the problems faced by smallholder farmers in Malawi, declining soil fertility being one of them. They further indicated that the soil results dissemination workshop has enriched their knowledge on the soil properties of the EPA.
The extension officers at both meetings emphasized on the need for them to have the soil summary report for each section as this will provide more clarity on the soil characteristics for their area of operation. Furthermore, the section report will guide the extension officers in providing appropriate recommendations for soil management, and thus improve the farms in their location. The extension officers have already expressed an interest in learning from the endline soil analysis results. They even suggested that the final reports should include crop recommendations.