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Experiences with farmer participatory mother-baby trials and watershed management to improve soil fertility options in malawi

Author: Kamanga, B.C.G.
Author: Kanyama-Phiri, G.Y.
Author: Snapp, S.S.
Year: 2001
Abstract: Participatory research approaches are increasingly becoming the foundation of integrated nutrient management. Until recently there has been almost no farmer uptake of soil fertility recommendations in Malawi. This has reduced the confidence of researchers and advisors. Recommendations have tended to prescribe relatively high rates of fertilizer countrywide, without taking into account the bioeconomic context. This includes farmer priorities for soil and crop management, other nutrient resources in the farming system, profitability of fertilizer use, and agroecozone differences in cropping system response to inputs. New approaches are needed. Soil fertility specialists and agronomists in Malawi are working together to develop practical participatory methods that document the indigenous technical knowledge that many farmers possess, improve how well agronomists understand farmer decision-making to generate more appropriate nutrient management technologies, and facilitate farmer experimentation. Farmer involvement in technology generation has been limited in the past. Farming systems research has been conducted for over 15 years in Malawi, and much of the soil fertility research of the National Research Program in the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture and the University of Malawi is conducted on-farm (Heisey and Waddington, 1993). However, the priority for much of the soil fertility management work is often assumed to be maximization of yield or economic return. Smallholder farmers may often be more interested in prioritising the best return from a very small investment, or reducing risk related to food security (Ahmed et al., 1997). An in-depth understanding of farmer soil fertility management and decision-making is the key to developing and deploying technologies that will find use. Few studies exist that document the effectiveness and practicality of different participatory methods. Tools are required that address both short term time-frames, where best bet technology options are ready for testing with farmers, and longer time-frame participatory research to address more intractable problems. Information is also limited on the correlation of scientific perspectives on integrated nutrient management and soil fertility characteristics compared with farmer perspectives and indicators (Onduru et al., 1998). The studies reported on here are Soil Fert Net endeavours that are part of a long-term programme primarily funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, to improve food security in Malawi through raised soil productivity for smallholder farmers. The main objectives were to: 1. Document farmer indigenous knowledge of soil characteristics and management techniques. 2. Evaluate farmer participatory methods through case studies of action research conducted in Malawi. 3. Compare short-term participatory approaches targeting rapid farmer evaluation and dissemination of best-bet management options, and long term watershed based approaches linking community participation with research. 4. Reprioritise Malawi research on soil fertility technology generation to take into account the priorities of smallholder farmers.
Format: PDF
Language: English
Publisher: CIMMYT
Serie: Soil Fertility Management and Policy Network for Maize-Based Farming Systems in Southern Africa -- Network Methods Working Paper
Copyright: CIMMYT manages Intellectual Assets as International Public Goods. The user is free to download, print, store and share this work. In case you want to translate or create any other derivative work and share or distribute such translation/derivative work, please contact indicating the work you want to use and the kind of use you intend; CIMMYT will contact you with the suitable license for that purpose.
Type: Working Paper
Country focus: Malawi
Place of Publication: Zimbabwe
Pages: 17 pages
Serie Number: 5
Agrovoc: FARMERS

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  • Socioeconomics
    Including topics such as farming systems, markets, impact & targeting, innovations, and GIS

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