Lovemore Khomo | July 18, 2016
William Shema is singing after this year’s good groundnut harvest. And it’s all because of his improved soil fertility.
The 42-year-old farms in Mchinji district, 100 kilometres west of Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. He has been farming for nearly 20 years, and two years ago switched from growing tobacco to groundnuts on his one-hectare piece of land.
Mr. Shema says many farmers in his area received poor yields because of inadequate rainfall and unpredictable weather. Despite these challenges, he had a bumper groundnut crop this year, harvesting nine 70-kilogram bags of unshelled nuts.
He explains the secret behind his success: “I think protection of soil fertility has improved my garden’s conditions.… I do not use any chemical fertilizer in my field because it disturbs soil fertility and kills important soil organisms.”
Mr. Shema also carefully prepares his land after harvest, by first removing weeds so they don’t compete with his crop during the growing season. He then tries to protect the topsoil from human or natural disturbances, to keep the nutrient-rich soil from washing away.
Happy Chinyama is the extension worker in Mchinji district. He recommends that farmers keep the soil covered, particularly after preparing their land. He explains, “The most important thing is preservation of soil fertility in the garden. A farmer should make sure that the soil in the garden is well-covered with relevant raw materials after preparation.”
Mr. Chinyama adds that good soil practices will help farmers adapt to the effects of climate change.
Growing groundnuts also improves soil fertility, as groundnuts add nitrogen to the soil. Mr. Chinyama says, “Planting a good variety of groundnuts with the first rains is another technique to achieve a bumper harvest.”
Mr. Shema explains that soil fertility is just one aspect of a successful groundnut harvest, and that proper ridge and plant spacing is also important.
With help from his improved soil, Mr. Shema’s future looks bright. He has sold six of his nine bags of groundnuts, earning 132,000 Malawi kwacha ($183 US), and is using his profits to continue to improve his soil.