Protecting soils to help combat climate change

This piece was posted by Mahara, Agriculture Coordinator of the FAIR programme in Malawi in response to an article in Alertnet.

I am the Agriculture Coordinator of FAIR Programme in Malawi jointly funded by Find Your Feet(UK), Self Help Africa (UK)and Development Fund of Norway.

Zambia is our neighbour so the weather pattern is similar and the effects of climate change have no significant differences.

FAIR Programme activities are similar with what has been raised in your report and I want to agree by giving examples when it comes to creating water-holding soil basins, reducing tilling and planting trees that help fertilize but let me also add use of manure may help the continent’s small farmers cope up with effects of climate change.

The programme has been promoting sustainable agriculture activities that include agroforestry practices,soil and water conservation, use of manure, small scale irrigation, crop diversification etc. but at the time being I will comment on use of manure on maize planted on ridges and in pits.

For the past three years we have been demonstrating use of manure on maize planted on ridges and pits comparing it with maize treated with inorganic fertiliser (Urea & 23: 21:0). Bokash and Liquid manure has been used for Bassal and Top dressing respectively as analysis of the two has shown that they have higher nutrient content and are lesser labour demanding in making.

During a dry spell, maize applied to inorganic fertliser suffered more moisture stress than maize applied to manure. While maize planted in pits seemed to have not suffered at all.

Maize Pit planting is a technology where maize is planted in pits of 30 cm deep, 45cm apart and 55cm between rows. The pits are filled 20l decomposed manure mixed with sub soil. 5 plants are planted per pit. Same pits can be used for four years. Pits act as basins and coupled with manure(holds water like a sponge)the result is more water conserved for crop use. The soil is not disturbed for the next 4 years or more.

Current average yields realized by smallholder farmers in Malawi ranges 1,400- 2400 kg/ ha for open pollinated maize varieties.(Guide to Agriculture Production; 1994).Yet yield results from 2008/09 Trials and demos where manure only was used on ridges were at 3.8 mt/ ha and where pits were used it almost doubled to 5mt/ ha and 3mt/ ha were recorded where fertiliser only was used on ridges of the same maize variety .

Etlida Luhanga from Rumphi district of the northern part of Malawi was one of the farmers that practiced Pit planting last year. She says because of good results more than 10 farmers have followed her in the technology this year.

So let me agree that technologies that will help less disburbing of the soils while conserving more water and adding organic matter to the soil may help farmers adapt to the effects of climate change.



  1. Marc in VA
    Posted December 25, 2009 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Hi. Love your general perspective of placing communities in control of their own development (vs. MFIs).


    Your fetish with global warming works directly against the very poor you want to assist. More to the point, global warming (the latest “cool” crisis) will (even if completelty implemented) have a negligible impact on the climate but will divert billions (trillions?) of dollars that could have otherwise been put to much better development work on behalf of the poor.

    My heart breaks when I read so frequently of the intrusion of climate policy maneuvering into the good works of people like you.

    Anyway, best of luck to you and Find Your Feet. I sincerely respect what you are trying to do.

    • Marc in VA
      Posted December 25, 2009 at 12:39 am | Permalink

      “More to the point, global warming” should have read:

      “More to the point, global warming ‘solutions'”

  2. findyourfeet
    Posted January 4, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your important comment Marc. I think that a recent piece written by our Director Dr Dan Taylor might answer a few of your concerns regarding our approach to climate change. As you will see our approach derives from our context specific concern with supporting the people we work with to adapt to some of the worst effects of climate change.

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