It’s been harvest time in Malawi again, and our latest newsletter describes some impressive new results, as well as some challenges that have arisen, only partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic which has both hampered operations in the field and also made the overall funding environment more difficult. Our field officers have come up with ingenious ways of continuing training whilst keeping farmers and themselves safe.

We conduct regular Participatory Yield Evaluations, to assess the ongoing effectiveness of our Deep Bed Farming (DBF) methods, compared to other farming technologies. For these trials, the farmers mark off pairs of 10 metre x 10 metre adjacent plots, one under DBF and one under the traditional ‘ridge’ farming system. Here’s a picture from the newsletter:

 

 

The newsletter contains new results from a group of farmers at Chinyama in Mulanje District, who had agreed to participate in a local trial of  DBF. The results are clear, as this table now shows.

 

Yields under DBF for this group ranged from 4,250 to 9,000 kgs of maize per hectare, between 1.5 and 3.5 times what was achieved under the adjacent plots using traditional ridge farming methods.  These results are fairly typical for us, and we are delighted to see the method continuing to deliver with the new harvests.

The simple average of the numbers in the right hand column is around 5,500 kgs per hectare. Compare this to average maize yields in Malawi of only around a third of these levels, as the graph below suggests (source.)

 

One has to be careful, of course, in comparing maize yields, especially since moisture content can vary. But the above table tells a clear story in any case, and the national comparisons are interesting.  

Countries near Malawi clearly suffer from similarly poor maize yields: matters in Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, for instance, may be even more problematic than in Malawi. We don’t operate there and can’t comment on their farming practices, but clearly it would be useful to research the potential here.

This harvest has also brought a new record for DBF farming. Our recent article about the new harvest highlights Richard, from Emsizini area: 

He has just weighed the shelled maize that he harvested from this plot and everyone is amazed as it is a record for a Deep Bed farm. It works out at just under ten tonnes to the hectare!

We also spoke to Maida Chirwa at Chiteka in Nkhata Bay district, as our newsletter explains:

When she sees the crop on DBF she says that ever since she started farming and hosting demonstrations there has never been as good a crop as what she has on the DBF. She says that all passersby are appreciating the crop.

On her side DBF has brought a solution to both poor yields and soil erosion. The field is on a gentle slope but DBF has stopped erosion completely.

It has not all been easy for farmers, of course. In other project areas, farmers started harvesting early due to termite attacks and thieves stealing crops. In some areas, persistent rains have delayed harvests, which makes drying the crops more difficult. 

Overall, however, with our dramatically improved crop yields we are tackling hunger among smallholder farmers in Malawi.  As our recent research shows, Deep Bed Farming is helping families, on average, consume an extra meal a day.