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Malawi bumper maize harvest, a boost for climate smart farming

June 23, 2017

Alice Kachere is more a smart than a lucky farmer. Last year, a scorching drought and floods destroyed livestock and crops, leaving many farmers in Malawi food insecure. 

On the outskirts of the capital Lilongwe in the central region of Malawi, many farmers are celebrating a bumper harvest, thanks to good rains after years of drought. Kachere from Kalumbu village, 30 km south east of Lilongwe, is one of them.

Even during the bad season, Kachere harvested maize from two of the three plots she farms. She also grows groundnuts, soya beans and tobacco and manages the fertility of her field.

Droughts and floods have affected soil fertility and the productivity of smallholder farmers in Malawi, many of whom till plots of land averaging a hectare.

Thanks to training in climate-smart agriculture methods, some farmers like Kachere keep stover - leaves and stalks of maize and soya bean – on the field after harvesting. The stover acts as ground cover and helps improve soil fertility especially in Malawi's maize mono-culture farming, which techniques like conservation agriculture are discouraging in favour of diversification as a means to adapt to climate change.

"The maize stalks add manure and stop the water running across my field when we received more rains like we did this year," says Kachere (46), a mother of three and member of the Nyanja Association of Farmers. "As a result, my yields have gone up but farmers who left their fields bare harvest less and sometimes even nothing. Leaving the stalks and covering the soil to retain moisture is a solution to climate change."

The Kalumbu Tribal Authority has developed by-laws banning the removal or burning of crop stover in the field and fines are imposed on offenders, said Peter Kaupa, NASFAM, Field Officer for Nyanja Association.

Part of A Kacheres harvest for this yearKachere harvested 2500 kg (50 bags) of maize last year and is expecting to harvest 12,500 kg (250 bags) of maize this year.

Malawi is one of several countries in Southern Africa which declared a drought disaster after an El Niño-induced drought and floods affected maize production leaving more than 6 million people in need of food aid.

Another farmer, Elias Kanyangale, who this year doubled his maize harvest from 50 bags last year, said farmers can benefit from crop insurance coverage during poor seasons.

The National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi (NASFAM) is an implementing partner in a regional project of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) to build the capacity of farmers to adapt to climate change. This will be done through the development and rollout of weather-based insurance, ICT-enabled weather information services and promotion of drought tolerance varieties. Under the two-year project, Malawi has targeted 50,000 farmers in five districts across the country who can benefit.

Malawi is projecting a bumper harvest of 3.2 million tonnes of maize this year but the country is not out of the woods yet, food security wise, warns LIuis Navarro, Head of Cooperation, Delegation of the European Union to Malawi.

"There is no room for complacency and to think now we have good harvest, everything is good again," said Navarro, calling for investment in the resilience of farmers and in crop diversification since maize is sensitive to climate change.

Busani Bafana