Maize thrives under drought in Malawi with conservation agriculture

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    In a farmer's field in Malawi, maize grown under conservation agriculture (CA) with a legume intercrop thrives despite scarce rainfall. Felix Twaya, of Lemu, Balaka, Malawi, cultivates maize using CA and conventional practices side-by-side so that visitors can compare them.

    Twaya farms about three acres of land. On one of his 0.1 hectare plots, he has been practicing conservation agriculture (CA) for three years. Previously, he would harvest 7 50 kg bags of maize from the plot. With CA, he is now harvesting 27 bags. “I will even begin using conservation agriculture in my cotton field,” he says.

    Government extension officers, the non-governmental organization Total LandCare, and CIMMYT have been supporting farmers in several Malawian communities to test CA in their fields and share it with their neighbors via demonstration plots. With adoption steadily spreading, farmers are seeing increased yields and crops that stay healthy under drought conditions that wilt conventionally-grown plots.

    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.

    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....

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