Profitability summary

June 25, 2020

Our latest survey of farmers adopting Deep Bed Farming (DBF) has produced spectacular results: a doubling of maize yields, leading to a roughly tenfold rise in profitability.

The survey was carried out in 14 different sites at Dowa District in the Central Region of Malawi, and Mzimba South, Mzimba North and Nkhata Bay Districts in the Northern Region. It involved 14 discussion groups with around 25 farmers per group on average. It studied various trends, and comparisons with conventional ridge farming methods:

  • The change in land area under DBF, from 2017 to 2019.
  • A comparison of maize yields in each area, versus conventional ridge farming
  • An item-by-item breakdown of costs associated with DBF, versus conventional ridges
  • A simple estimate of profitability – revenues minus costs

Farmers tend to be risk-averse and are usually reluctant to try new technologies except on very small parcels of their land. If results are good, they expand gradually. The survey found that the total area under DBF cultivation rose from two percent of farmed land on average in 2017, to 11 percent in 2018, to 20 percent in 2019.

Consistent with what we have found repeatedly in past surveys, maize yields per hectare at 7.8 tonnes per hectare were nearly double for the land under DBF, compared to conventional ridge methods of farming, which yielded just 4.2 tonnes per hectare.

The total costs of each method, however, were more similar: slightly higher for DBF in the first year largely due to heavy requirements for manual labour to break up the hard pan and create the deep beds, then falling over a five-year average to below the ridge farming methods.

However, in terms of profitability the results were spectacular. When costs were subtracted from revenues, conventional ridge farming yielded an average profit of 49,000 Malawi Kwacha (MK) per hectare per year, or MK 4,000 per month. Deep Bed Farming, by contrast, produced an average profit of MK427,000 in the first year – nearly nine times as much. If we took the projected five-year average cost of DBF, profitability rose to MK 624,000, more than 12 times as much!

(These remarkable improvements in profitability are partly the result of sharply increased yields for DBF methods, but also a mathematical fact that the difference between two variable large numbers tends to vary far more dramatically than the large numbers themselves.)

Overall, this is further confirmation of the superiority of Deep Bed Farming, and of the need to spread these methods more widely.

Helen with her spectacular maize crop in one of the surveyed central sites, Chigoma