Soils, Food and Healthy Communities

Soils, Food and Healthy Communities

An article that is critical of the draft seed policy in Malawi has been published in the Malawi Nation newspaper by Blessings Chinsinga (at Chancellor College, University of Malawi) and Rachel Bezner Kerr: http://mwnation.com/draft-seed-policy-risks-marginalising-smallholder-farmers/   This article is an outcome of the discussions held during our recent policy workshop in May. Dr. Rachel Bezner Kerr is a professor at Cornell, collaborating researcher with SFHC as well as project director of MAFFA. We hope that this article adds to the growing voices of civil society who have expressed concern and discontent about this policy.

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The MAFFA project team has been busy the last few months with a packed schedule of project activities!  See below a few of the highlights!

Policy Workshop

‘Agroecology-Based Smallholder Farming in Malawi’ policy brief

‘Agroecology-Based Smallholder Farming in Malawi’ policy brief

On May 10, 2016, the MAFFA project team hosted the ‘Agroecology-Based Smallholder Farming in Malawi’ policy workshop in Lilongwe, Malawi.  Government officials, academics, farmers, and representatives from local and regional NGOs came together to discuss 6 key policy recommendations that were based on findings from the work SFHC and partners have been doing for the past 15 years.  The key policy recommendations are:

  1. Invest in agroecological research, training and support
  2. Promote agrobiodiversity
  3. Integrate farmer-to-farmer teaching and farmer experimentation into extension more explicitly, with a focus on mentoring those farmers who are highly food insecure, poor, and socially marginalized
  4. Address gender and other social inequalities and assess gendered impact
  5. Promote diversified and viable rural economies through local value-added processing, small to medium scale rural enterprises, and cooperatives
  6. Promote local seed sovereignty through protection of farmer varieties

Thanks to all who attended and contributed to these important discussions, especially to the MAFFA farmers who shared their personal experiences!  Special thanks also to Dr. Sekhar Nagothu and the Norweigan Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO) for their support of this workshop.

 

Integrated Pest Management

Pests are an ongoing challenge for farmers and can have devastating impacts on yields.  As part of our agroecological approach we do not promote the use of chemical pesticides.  Instead we encourage farmers to experiment with a variety of strategies including intercropping and using repellent plants to control pests.  This approach can be effective, but it can also take time to figure out the right approach or combination of approaches required.

We received a lot of feedback from farmers on the MAFFA project who were having difficulties controlling a variety of pests, with a number of farmers having a particularly tough time controlling a beetle that was attacking their pigeon pea stand.  Pigeon pea is a valuable crop both for improving soil fertility and as a nutritional addition to diets.  To help farmers combat this beetle, among other pests, and to prevent them from becoming discouraged from growing this crop, we arranged for 6 MAFFA staff to attend Integrated Pest Management (IPM) training in August 2015.  The MAFFA team attended a week-long training at the Grow Biointensive Agricultural Centre of Kenya (G-BIACK) and met with Entomologists at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi.  Our staff learned about many different agroecolocial approaches to combatting pests that could be tried with multiple pests and crops.

Upon returning to Malawi, field officers from both Lobi and Ekwendeni provided this training to our farmer promoters and set up experimentation plots in each area at the start of the 2015-2016 growing season to test the efficacy of the new approaches they learned about.  Observations from these plots and interviews with the farmers who used these approaches are currently being done now that the growing season is coming to an end for most crops. The results from these experiments will be shared later this year! 

 

 

Yield Assessment

Most crops, aside from pigeon pea, have been harvested in both Ekwendeni and Lobi and yield assessments are currently underway.  This year Malawi, like many countries in the region, experienced the worst drought in decades, which has devastated crops and left millions of smallholder farmers across the country with no food.  The President declared a state of disaster for the entire country in April 2016, stating that there will be high need for food relief assistance through the duration of the 2016-2017 consumption year.  The impacts of this drought are particularly disastrous as many farmers in Malawi also experienced low yields during the previous growing season due to drought and flooding.

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