"I would advise all farmers to follow what I’m doing. After seven years, it’s amazing. I’ve seen the change," says farmer Jelimoti Sikelo of Mwansambo extension planning area, Nkhotakota zone, central Malawi. "People should not burn residues, because there is life. I’ve also seen that, in heavy storms, maize plants in conservation agriculture plots are less likely to lodge. I promise you, I will not stop using conservation agriculture."
Conservation agriculture (CA) is a set of practices that includes eliminating traditional ridge-and-furrow tillage systems, keeping crop residues on the soil, and rotating or intercropping maize with other crops. In addition to labor and cost savings, the improved soil structure resists erosion and increases water infiltration and retention, a huge benefit when drought threatens in places like Malawi, where maize subsists on rain alone.
Born in 1943, Sikelo's vigor and agility belie his 68 years as he moves through his fields, where he practices CA and demonstrates it to other farmers. "I started with conservation agriculture during the 2005-06 cropping season. The extension workers came and said ‘let’s start practices to use crop residues'. We intercropped maize and pigeonpea to improve the soil. In 2007, we found that pigeonpea was not beneficial because it matured late and the goats ate it, so we changed to cowpea," he says, reflecting the way CA practices must be adapted and tailored to each location and each individual farmer.
"Previously, food shortages were predominant, but with this technology [conservation agriculture], they are becoming less pronounced," says Sikelo. "I have also introduced the practice of conservation agriculture without herbicides; if you maximize your crop density and soil coverage, weed infestation is very low, so it’s a very economical practice." He has even found conservation agriculture useful in combating the parasitic weed Striga asiatica, or witchweed, which can severely affect maize crops in the region. "Before I used conservation agriculture, my field was full of witchweed; with conservation agriculture the witchweed has been reduced year by year."
Photo credit: T. Samson/CIMMYT.
For more, see CIMMYT's 2012 e-news story "Conservation agriculture in Malawi: 'We always have problems with rain here,'" available online at: www.cimmyt.org/en/front-page-tems/aboutmediaresources/130....