Extension Bulletins Raise CA Awareness for Malawian Farmers

Conservation Agriculture Malawi

CIMMYT, Washington State University and Total Land Care (TLC) recently published a series of extension bulletins to spread awareness of the benefits that different conservation agriculture (CA) techniques could have for farmers in Malawi.

The study, “Sustainable Intensification and Diversification on Maize-based Agroecosystems in Malawi,” took place over three years in the districts of Nkhotakota and Dowa, and was sponsored by MAIZE CRP through a Competitive Grants Initiative.

Over the study period, three different cropping systems — no-till, conservation agriculture, and conventional tillage — were applied to smallholder farms. The three extension bulletins detail the respective impacts on crop yields and residue production, soil-water relations and the economic impacts for smallholder households.

The bulletins have been printed for distribution to Malawian extension agents and non-governmental organizations so that this vital knowledge can be passed on to farmers.

The Findings

In the study, the no-till maize plots incorporated only two of the three principles of CA, no tillage and residue retention but not crop rotations, while conservation agriculture and conventional tillage incorporated diverse cropping systems.

It was found that that in terms of crop yields, crop rotations had the greatest impact on maize yields, leading to higher yields in conservation agriculture and conventional tillage than in continuous no-till maize.Moisture retention under mulch

In regard to soil-water relations, infiltration of water into the soil was greatest in no-till maize and conservation agriculture, with 90% of applied water infiltrating into soils in the no-till plot and 60% in conservation agriculture in the Nkhotakota district.

Sediment runoff was greatest in conventional tillage in both districts. In terms of economic impacts on smallholder households the study found that conservation agriculture used labor more efficiently than conventional tillage, although variable costs were lowest in conventional tillage.

Overall, it was found that the act of incorporating crop rotations into maize-based conservation agriculture and conventional tillage systems can help to increase maize yields, and that it can also offer smallholder farmers returns to labor and variable costs equal to or greater than continuous no-till maize production.

The authors of the bulletins are Dan TerAvest (Washington State University), John Reganold (Washington State University), and Christian Thierfelder (CIMMYT).

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