Malawi has a large, growing population with one of the highest population densities in Africa. It is also one of the poorest countries on the planet, with an economy dominated by low-level subsistence agriculture. Climate change means that farmers face acute and worsening environmental conditions such as droughts and floods, leading to unpredictable growing seasons. This is made worse by poor traditional agricultural practices. These twin challenges result in poor harvests, frequent crop failures, and widespread hunger.
We do not use handouts to push alien practices on Malawian farmers: instead, we only respond to request for assistance, and provide the barest minimum of handouts (pickaxes, spirit levels, measuring tape, the occasional pig, and other bits and pieces.) However, we are a small charity and we cannot keep up with demand. And here lies a great risk - if farmers try to adopt Tiyeni's methods without proper training, they may get it right by copying those before them, but the danger is that they might not be not be able to implement crucial components of Deep Bed Farming.
If farmers don't decompact down to at least 30cm/1 foot deep; get their contour ridge exactly on the contour; close the ends; make the compost correctly; get the size of the beds right, following the marker ridges; reenforce the marker ridges with vetiver grass; it risks leading to failure - for example creating an erosion disaster and potentially the long-term discrediting of our regenerative methods. So we urgently need to be able to support the demand for training. We want the knowledge to sit with the farmers.
Tiyeni field staff below assist farmers to remake marker ridges exactly on the contour.
Agriculture in Malawi is currently dominated by the outside provision of money, fertiliser, equipment and food. This is not just unsustainable: it constitutes a serious national crisis.
Sadly, suboptimal traditional subsistence agriculture is practiced throughout the country. This not only traps farmers in poverty, but also results in highly damaging degradation of the countryside, and a loss of fertility. Recent studies by the United Nations show that for each hectare of farmland, 29 tonnes of soil were lost each year on average, because of poor farming practices.
The photograph shows Ivy Trinidade Chimaliro holdings two sets of maize cobs: those grown with Tiyeni methods in her left hand, and those grown with traditional methods, in her right. (Photo: Alan Dixon, Chora area, 2014.)
Our ultimate aim is to stop damaging and unsustainable farming throughout Malawi and replace them with more regenerative, profitable farming methods which retain the rainwater and also nourish, protect and rebuild degraded soils. This will enable farmers to become self-sufficient, and to create a surplus that allows them, their families and their communities to break out of a long cycle of poverty, whilst rehabilitating the land for future generations.
Tiyeni's presentations, featured during the Soil Regen Summit 2021, give a view of farming and food availability in the context of South East Africa and the appalling loss of topsoil and fertility resulting from poor farming techniques prevalent there.
Speaker: Colin Andrews, trained in Land Agency and a former Chartered Surveyor, became a trustee of The Tiyeni Fund in 2013 and Chair in 2018. He works closely with an all Malawi team of field trainers and agricultural experts in Malawi.
Tropical and sub-tropical farming has many challenges. In Malawi, one of the poorest countries on Earth, these are coming home to roost. However, Tiyeni's Deep Bed Farming is transforming livelihoods in all areas of the country. The simple, low-tech solutions are applicable widely in Africa and elsewhere. The talk will outline this method of farming, which substantially increases yields while reducing the cost of inputs.
Long term adoption of Deep Bed Farming transforms lives……. but widespread adoption will be life-changing for all Malawi’s people.