Participatory approaches to diversification and intensification of crop production on smallholder farms in Malawi

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This is the title of the PhD thesis that I will be defending on 12th September 2018. It was a challenging year combining the last stretch of the PhD with a busy job, but I am glad to report progress. Our third paper ‘Exploring the yield gap of orange-fleshed sweet potato varieties on smallholder farmers’ fields in Malawi’ was published online in Field Crops Research in November 2017. (See link)

After this I focussed on the chapter ‘Exploring fertilizer use with maize, legumes and sweet potato to intensify and diversify cropping systems in Malawi’ which was submitted to Experimental Agriculture in April 2018. Together with a private sector partner Farmers World Ltd, we explored yield responses to inputs in 50 maize, 28 soyabean, 24 groundnut and 26 sweet potato on-farm trials and conducted economic analysis and focus group discussions. Due to proper crop management and the use of good varieties in a season with above-average rainfall, excellent mean trial yields of 5.0 t ha-1 for maize, 3.4 t ha-1 for soyabean, 2.5 t ha-1 for groundnuts and 13.2 t ha-1 for sweet potato were achieved (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Exceptionally good yields were achieved on the demo-sites
Responses to combinations of inorganic fertilizer and lime were highly variable, although yields of all crops were enhanced. Although maize production and response to fertilizer were not as profitable as the other crops, fertilizer application to maize gave the best returns of food per amount of money invested. Yield responses and value cost ratios showed that investments in fertilizer and lime on soyabean was more worthwhile than on groundnut, although the relative differences were somewhat hidden by high groundnut prices.

While there is potential to derive better financial returns from diversification and intensification with legumes and sweet potato, farmers prioritize maize in terms of land area and resource allocation. Policies to enhance crop diversification and intensification should address the main constraints of lack of awareness of the agronomic and financial benefits of nutrient application to legumes and sweet potato, unstable markets, access to credit and access to improved seed.

Although my research was not directly funded by N2Africa, I linked up with Linus Franke and Ken Giller who supervised my analysis and writing – and my results contributed to knowledge generation used within the project.

I am currently working as country manager at the International Potato Center (CIP) in Malawi. I have managed the ‘Feed the Future Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies’ project that aimed to scale out orange-fleshed sweet potato technologies to thousands of households in Central and Southern Malawi. I am currently also leading the contributions of seven International Research for Development Centres (CGIAR) to a Farmer Field School focused innovation systems project to enhance productivity of 400,000 farm households in partnership with GIZ, FAO, Government of Malawi and a consortium of NGOs.

Daniel van Vugt, International Potato Center (CIP), Malawi (For his previous update see here).