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Malawi: Crop residues help farmers save maize from dry spell

Small-scale maize farmers in many parts of Malawi are worried about the current dry spell. Some areas have been without rain for two or three weeks, and maize crops are at risk.

But Halieti Manyenje covered her field with crop residues, and has hope that her maize will survive. She explains, “My field still has moisture and the crop stand looks like it will survive the current dry spell. This is because I used crop residues to [protect] the soil from the heat of the sun.”

Mrs. Manyenje lives in Mwalembe, a village near Lake Malawi in the southern district of Mangochi. She says the effects of the dry spell in her area are severe. She explains: “Today is the second week of January 2016, but the rains stopped on December 20…. Maize is wilting in many fields and [is getting] scorched because the soils have started drying up. Some farmers who did not use maize crop residues to cover their fields will need to replant when [the] rains come.”

Mrs. Manyenje learned about using crop residues in 2012 by listening to Dzimwe Community Radio. She explains: “I heard from the extension worker on the radio that we need to use maize crop residues to conserve moisture in our fields, because our district experiences erratic rains and dry spells due to climate change. I followed this advice and it has helped me.”

Crop residues have also helped increase Mrs. Manyenje’s yields. She explains: “When the crop residues decompose, the soils become fertile. Before I started using crop residues on part of my one hectare of land, I used to harvest 15 bags of maize. But last year I harvested 30.”

Loniya Phiri is a farmer from Mwalembe village who started covering her maize field with crop residues in 2014. She says the residues have other advantages. She explains: “When a field is covered with crop residues, it helps to save time and money because you do not [need to] weed or make ridges. Weeds are suppressed by the crop residues. I now have more time to concentrate on growing other crops such as cassava and sweet potatoes.”

Mrs. Manyenje says farmers in her village rely on Dzimwe Community Radio to learn about the effects of climate change. She is part of a radio listening group called Nakundu, which meets every Tuesday afternoon to listen to the station’s farming programs. The group has a demonstration plot where they practice what they learn on the radio.

Justice Sumaili is the program manager for Dzimwe Community Radio. He says: “Our radio programs have helped many farmers to learn about using crop residues in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. This year, farmers used crop residues in maize fields [and it has helped them] a lot because their crops look stronger than those who did not.”

Dola Yahaya also farms in Mwalembe. She says that, although crop residues are helping farmers in her village, the practice has some challenges. She explains: “Goats and cattle … eat crop residues in our fields. The crop residues are scarce in my area [so] it is difficult to put a one-hectare maize field under cover with crop residues.” Mrs. Yahaya adds that termites can also eat crop residues.

Last year, Mrs. Manyenje covered about half of her field with crop residues. Now that she has experienced the benefits, she plans to cover her entire field this year.

This story was originally published on January 18, 2016.