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Malawi: Farmer increases her income by intercropping pigeon peas with maize (By Norman Fulatila, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Malawi)

Jennifer Chilundu grew up as a subsistence farmer in the Chiradzulu district of southern Malawi. She planted pigeon peas along with maize, groundnuts, and tobacco. But at the end of each farming season her family was always short. Then a few years ago, she began taking a different approach. Her new approach has generated more food and a better income for her family.

The secret to her success is intercropping. In 2010, Mrs. Chilundu began planting pigeon peas alongside her maize. Previously, she planted pigeon peas only in a small area close to her home. Now, she dedicates one hectare of her family’s land to pigeon pea intercropped with maize.

She harvests about 10 bags of pigeon peas a year, which she sells for approximately 160 US dollars. It’s a big change from the days when she grew only enough pigeon pea for her household.

Mrs. Chilundu learned about the value of pigeon peas from an agricultural show presented by an organization called Development Aid from People to People. During the show, she learned from other farmers about intercropping, crop diversification, and how to make money by selling pigeon peas.

Mrs. Chilundu explains some of the benefits of intercropping pigeon peas: “I intercrop pigeon peas with maize because it does not require a lot of labour … for the two crops I cultivate once and when [the] pigeon peas grow, it suppresses weeds in my garden.”

Oswin Madzonga is a scientist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. He encourages Malawian farmers to intercrop pigeon peas with other crops in order to get the most from their land. He explains that leguminous crops like pigeon peas naturally enrich the soil.

Mr. Madzonga also notes that there is a ready market for pigeon peas. Malawian farmers can sell their pigeon pea locally for export to India – a country with high demand for the crop.

Mrs. Chilundu is fully convinced of the value of intercropping. It has dramatically increased her income and improved her family’s life. She explains, “The money I earn enables me to support my family in buying school uniforms for [my] children, buying fertilizers, as well as household utensils.”

Mrs. Chilundu encourages other women farmers to seek information on new farming techniques so they can move beyond subsistence agriculture. She is grateful for the agricultural show that transformed her way of life and hopes other women will benefit from similar experiences. As for her own future, she plans to expand her pigeon pea crop in order to generate even higher yields and more money.