Farmer and researcher partnerships in Malawi: Developing soil fertility technologies for the near-term and far-term uri icon

abstract

  • In Malawi, intensive production of maize (Zea mays) is pursued on over 60% of smallholder land, yet application of nutrients is almost nil. To improve adoption of soil productivity-enhancing technologies, two participatory methods were pursued: (i) a novel 'mother-and-baby' trial design and (ii) participatory action research with communities in a southern Malawi watershed. The central 'mother trial' was managed by researchers (replicated within a site) and systematically linked to farmer-managed 'baby' trials to cross-check biological performance with farmer assessment. The watershed approach involved a partnership of researchers and farmers addressing soil management. Technologies tested in both approaches integrated legumes into existing maize-based systems, sometimes in combination with inorganic fertilizers. Across methods, legume intensification increased yields by approximately 40% (net benefit increase of approximately US$50 ha-1) and fertilizer increased yields by approximately 70% compared with continuous maize grain yields of about 1100 kg ha-1. Farmer assessment prioritized technologies that included secondary benefits, such as weed suppression, grain legume yields, and low-labour-demanding fertilizer. A survey indicated that participating researchers and extension staff had reservations about the amount of time required to interact with farmers, and no clear consensus emerged regarding the best approach. There has been wider adoption of the mother-and-baby trial method by scientists in neighbouring countries, indicating the value of systematically incorporating farmers' input

publication date

  • 2002
  • 2002