Dryland cropping systems in Africa are facing major challenges due to rainfall variability that is compounding the already dire conditions of poor soil fertility and inadequate investments in farms. Application of technologies that enhance crop productivity and stability through efficient use of nutrients and soil moisture for different agro-ecologies and season types is foundational for food security.
Integrating more grain legumes as intercrops or in a rotational system can allow farmers to achieve high and stable yield under varying rainfall, with modest fertilizer investments. This is critical for resource poor farmers who have limited access to mineral fertilizers.
The Africa RISING Malawi team-initiated technology validation trials in 2012 to investigate soil organic carbon changes over time. The treatments for these validation trials ranged from unfertilized maize control, maize fertilized with NP optimally every year and when legumes are integrated as intercrops or rotations with maize.
Linking the production of grain legumes (groundnuts, pigeon peas, cowpeas, beans) and local level processing to ensure dietary diversity is an integral component of agricultural intensification initiatives for Africa RISING in Malawi.
As part of this activity, farmers in the project sites are trained on: (1) food and nutrition principles (foods and nutrients; the six food groups and dietary diversity, infant and young child feeding practices), (2) achieving dietary diversity (diversity in production, dietary diversity through food selection and purchasing),(3) cooking demonstration of different dishes for the whole household, (4) food budgeting and storage, and (5) Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
For the past 1 year, over 500 farmers in Linthipe EPA in Malawi have been involved in food and nutrition training, where dietary diversity and consumption patterns have been studied. Trainees were drawn from households participating in Africa RISING sustainable intensification activities, where maize/legume rotations and grain legume utilization have been promoted for more than 5 years.
The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), one of the Africa RISING project partners, has introduced new nutrient dense common bean varieties that are loved and are being produced by farmers. Grain legumes, especially nutrient-dense common bean varieties, provide an important opportunity for improved nutrition outcomes among farming households if the produce is not wholly marketed.
The nutrition training has increased access to important information for more local use of the products. We estimate that 40% of the households that directly worked with CIAT and the Nutrition Department of Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) over the years are now incorporating nutrient dense common bean varieties as part of their diets.
Exploring productivity of goats under different housing and feeding regimes
Goats constitute the largest source of meat in rural Malawi. Farmers who own goats get lucrative returns when they fatten them around festivals when demand soars. The Africa RISING Malawi team is implementing interventions that would result in improved productivity while reducing the crop-livestock conflict within the project sites. These interventions involve farmers who have also taken up Africa RISING technologies to intensify production of legumes like pigeon pea.
Henry Mtetemera from Dija Village told reviewers he opted to adapt the improved goat pen because it assures him of the health, security and productivity of his goats. Twice every week, Henry travels from his Dija Village to Ntubwi Village to learn about the goat intensification technologies from Africa RISING scientists and lead farmers. Pen feeding is among the interventions introduced to livestock keepers at Ntubwi Village in Malawi. This intervention is aimed at addressing the feed scarcity (and wastage) challenges especially during the dry season. With pen feeding, farmers collect crop residues and natural grasses and conserve them as hay for use during the dry season.
In much of Africa, seasonal rainfall predictions are often generalized, limiting their usefulness in practically guiding responsive management on the farms, including choice of appropriate cropping regimes that best-fit expected rainfall quality. Farmers are therefore exposed to climatic risk in environments with high inter- and intra-season rainfall variability, making fertilizer investments unattractive.
Simple approaches to buffer farmers against soil moisture stresses are required. Over the past 5 years, Africa RISING has demonstrated to over 3000 farmers how they could reduce the intensity of drought related shocks through in-situ water conservation. We have shown that in-situ storage of rainwater that comes as high intensity storms, through tied-ridges, is effective at reducing erosion and increasing the proportion of rainwater that infiltrates.
Promoting and scaling conservation agriculture (CA) practices is a key aspect of the climate-smart agriculture practices being advanced by Africa RISING. CA is a cropping system made of different practices including no-till farming, crop residue retention as mulch and crop rotations. In Malawi, CA is complemented by targeted fertilizer applications, the use of drought-tolerant cultivars, and doubled-up legume systems of pigeon peas and groundnuts.
Conservation agriculture interventions have proven a significant impact on cereal and legume production southern Africa. In an assessment comparing maize productivity in farms under CA versus those under conventional tillage, it was noted that CA resulted in 75% higher yield compared to conventional tillage, reduced farm labour (allowing farmers to use time gained for other pressing activities), greater economic benefits in form of a higher net benefit and net present value, as well as higher returns to labour and investment.
In Lemu Village, trials and demonstrations on CA systems have been ongoing since 2007 (later rolled into Africa RISING in 2018). We are demonstrating long-term CA systems with maize groundnut rotations, different drought-tolerant maize varieties and pigeonpea intercropping. Due to an excellent extension officer the adoption rate is also high in this area.
“I am now food secured, because with conservation agriculture, I use less labor therefore leaveing me time to do other family activities to earn money,”notes Mary Twaya (right), one of the farmers who have adopted CA in Lemu Village.
Mary uses the profit to cover some needs including purchasing some school equipment's for her kids. She is happy with the support from Africa RISING.
“At first people were laughing at me thinking I am mad because I had adopted the CA technologies, but now they are all trying to learn from me,” she states.
A visit to Moshi Maile’s farm in Mlali Village in Tanzania’s Kongwa District gave the group a chance to see the farming systems approach to sustainable intensification deployed by the Africa RISING project. Maile is a model farmer among his peers there. He has managed to successfully implement different technologies promoted by Africa RISING at farm level into a synergistic arrangement. The technologies he has adopted from the project include: variety selection of improved crop varieties (for better productivity), rearing improved chicken ecotypes (for income and improving community breed), establishing soil and water conservation structures like Fanya juu and Fanyachini terraces (for erosion control), and establishing woodlots and fodder banks (for fuelwood supply and supply of leaf meals for poultry).
So far over 3,000 cross-bred grower chicks have been distributed to farmers. The cross-bred chicken are fast growing and can attain a live-weight of between 3.1 and 4.2 kg after just 4 – 5 months which is a good market weight. The crossbreeds are also better at producing eggs, laying on average 260 eggs/year compared to the local varieties which lay an average of 70 eggs/year. These comparative advantages mean that farmers such as Maile can get increased income and improved nutrition faster.
A Chat with the Kongwa-Kiteto Africa RISING supported innovation platform
Dryland research: Elite crops; intercropping; insitu water harvesting
Genetic intensification is one of the three pillars of sustainable intensification, alongside ecological intensification and socio-economic intensification. Africa RISING has been working with farmers in Kongwa and Kiteto districts to improve the crop varieties available to farmers in these semi-arid parts of Tanzania as an entry point to sustainably intensifying their farming systems. In both districts, the scientists and farmers have implemented systematic variety screening, on-farm testing and participatory variety selection for groundnut, sorghum, pigeon pea and drought-tolerant varieties. Through this work, some promising varieties have been identified.
It is worth noting that the Africa RISING team did not do a ‘from scratch’ breeding program to arrive at the varieties being released to farmers, but rather leveraged on working with breeders from other initiatives to identify best-bet/best-fit varieties for Kongwa and Kiteto districts.
By testing the new improved varieties with farmers, the research team has been able to get feedback from them as well as from other stakeholders. The approach adopted by the team has been participatory by nature. Farmers, for example, have been evaluating the varieties based on their traits of interest such as drought tolerance, early maturity, ability to yield more, taste and number of pods produced per plant (for groundnut). To scale out the new varieties once the top varieties have been selected, the team plans to promote them through community seed banks.
The following varieties are currently in the pipeline for release:
- New candidate groundnut for the semi-arid agro-ecologies of central Tanzania: 3 varieties: ICGV-SMs 02724, 05650 and 03519.
- New candidate Sorghum varieties for the semi-arid agro-ecologies of central Tanzania5 varieties: Gambella 1107, IESV 23010 DL, IESV 92028 DL, IESV 23006 DL and IEVS 92008.
- New candidate Pearl millet for the semi-arid agro-ecologies of central Tanzania: 6 varieties: SDMV 96053, SDMV 94005, IP 8774, IP 9776, SDMV 96063 and KAT PM 2.
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Photo of a farmer’s field plot showcasing in-situ water harvesting technologies in Lakaila Village.
TARI scientist, Elirehema Swai, explains about the informal seed systems approach used by project partners to promote newer elite crop varieties in Kongwa and Kiteto Districts.
Improved groundnut and pigeon pea on farm demonstration at Laikala Village.
On-farm systems research - Livestock/vegetable integration; Youth engagement
When Veronica Lukumay, a farmer from Bermi Village in Tanzania’s Babati District joined Africa RISING activities and started adopting technologies back in 2013; her son, Olais was still in high school. Now, 7 years later, with Olais finished with his schooling, Veronica is letting Olais take charge of production in the family’s farm. His keen interest in farming as a business has lent him to intimately engage in some of the Africa RISING technologies like growing elite indigenous vegetable varieties, improved poultry production, as well as improved livestock husbandry and feed production. Through his dedication and success in times when the youth feel there aren’t just enough jobs to employ them, Olais’ story is starting convince other youth in Bermi Village to consider going into farming to earn their income.
Photo credits: Eveline Massam/IITA