Malawi: Crop residues improve soil fertility, save time and money

| March 16, 2015

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While many farmers around Tchale village are busy weeding their fields, Robert Dzuwa and his wife are free to do other household chores. They save time by using crop residues to control weeds.

Mr. Dzuwa walks around his field, 65 kilometres north of Lilongwe, late in the afternoon. He smiles as he inspects his small plot of maize. The crop is green with tasselled cobs, and the plants look much healthier than those in neighbouring fields. Mr. Dzuwa says, “I use crop residues – they suppress the growth of weeds. As you can see, my field is clean and free from weeds – but I did not weed it.”

Mr. Dzuwa started covering his field with crop residues in 2013. He explains: “Around September and October we spread enough [residues] to cover the entire maize field. When rains come, we plant and we do not worry about weeds.”

Weeds are a big problem in maize. On average, farmers weed two or three times a season. Mr. Dzuwa explains, “Farmers in my area spend a lot of time in their fields. My neighbours go in the morning and come back around lunch because of the time it takes to weed.”

Mr. Dzuwa says crop residues can help farmers in many ways. He says, “My family saves time and money … In the past, we were spending more money to pay labour for weeding.”

He learnt about using crop residues to manage weeds at a training session offered by the local extension worker.

Catherine Tembo farms in the nearby village of Tembo. During the training, she learnt that crop residues also help improve soil fertility. Mrs. Tembo explains, “The crop residues decompose and become [compost]. They also prevent soil erosion … I have seen an improvement in crop yields because of this [method of] farming.”

Mrs. Tembo adds that crop residues help to protect maize from termite attacks. She explains: “In my area, termites can be devastating because they destroy [the] roots and stems of maize. [Now] the termites do not attack the maize plants but eat the crop residues instead.”

Getrude Kambauwa is the Chief Land Resources Officer in Malawi’s Department of Land Resources Conservation. She says the government is encouraging farmers to use crop residues because they help to prevent weed seeds from germinating and becoming a problem. Ms. Kambauwa adds, “Crop residues assist farmers to produce higher yields while … maintaining soil fertility and conserving water.”

Mr. Dzuwa saved the $65 U.S. he would have paid in labour costs for weeding. He is particularly satisfied that the plant residues appear to have controlled striga, or witchweed, a major problem in his area.

Mr. Dzuwa says he is now a happy man. His family is happy, too. His three children have enough time to concentrate on their studies because they don’t have to work as long in the field. Mr. Dzuwa says: “Previously I harvested only enough to half-fill my ox-cart. But last year I harvested two ox-carts full of maize. Many farmers in my area have now started to use crop residues because they have seen how my yields have improved.”

Photo credit: Mark Ndipita