Right now, on smallholder farms across Central Malawi, something revolutionary is unfolding and it is thanks to a volunteer â€“ Dr Pieter Haumann â€“ that the program hits the soil running.
Thirty recently trained extension workers, armed with their agronomy degrees and android phones, are dipping into the soil, scooping up samples, locking up their GPSes and shooting their soil analyses straight into the cloud. Meanwhile, in a lab 12 000 kilometres away at New Yorkâ€™s Columbia University, researchers are using that data, through a new soil testing technology called SoilDoc, to map the soil landscape of a country thatâ€™s been relying on soil analyses thatâ€™s more than 30 years old.
Itâ€™s an initiative that could change how Malawi farms. And itâ€™s all part of a partnership with AFAP and Malawiâ€™s Farmers World â€“ which operates 100 stores across the country â€“ along with the support of AFVP, the small volunteer organization with big ambitions.
In addition to the soil mapping, those extension workers will reach an estimated 6 000 smallholder famers over the next three years in a knowledge sharing project.
The extension workers have been deployed to the 30 Farmers World stores located in Central Malawi, with plans for each to reach out to 200 farmers in their area, informing them about better crop practices and the use of fertilizer, offering advice on improved technologies and sharing information about the agricultural space, up to and including the marketplace.
Regadio de Baixo Limpopo (RBL) Extension Officers Get Training Boost The lives of thousands of smallholder farmers currently involved in the Agricultural Technologies Transfer Program of Regadio de Baixo Limpopo (RBL) EP (Low Limpopo Irrigation Scheme), a public company under the Ministry Â of Agriculture and Food Security (MASA) of Mozambique will never be the same.
AFAP has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with MASA which has catalyzed the process that will lead towards the establishment of a fully functional and knowledgeable fertilizer extension system that will provide adequate support on management and proper use of fertilizers for smallholders on the scheme. RBL manages the operation of the irrigation scheme, which covers a total of 70,000 ha, 10,000 ha of which is under cultivation by smallholder farmers growing mostly rice, beans, potatoes and vegetables. About 8,200 families (52% women) live on the scheme.
The training, which took place in Xai-Xai, Gaza Province, Mozambique, brought together a total of 10 government extension staff, mainly agronomists working for RBL, to acquire knowledge and experience in the principles of fertilizer best management practices and practical application of principles, extension methods and practices related to fertilizer use, among other topics.
The training was conducted by the volunteer Thomas W. Crawford Jr, (PhD), Consultant with the Global Agronomy, LLC of Arizona, USA, under the African Fertilizer Volunteers Program (AFVP), in collaboration with Mr. Sergio Ussaca, AFAP Country Director for Mozambique. With this training, it is envisaged that trained extension workers will replicate trainings to field extension agents who will in turn advise smallholder farmers and thus increase fertilizer use for increased production and productivity.
In April this year, volunteer Dr Thomas Crawford embarked on study of South Africaâ€™s Limpopo Province on behalf of a local SME start up, SCORPIUS Trading with the support of AFAP. The SME is interested in setting up a Hub Agro Dealer but needed additional technical expertise and guidance on their business plans before moving ahead. Dr Crawford offered up his services, traveling throughout the province and interviewing more than 35 people during his trip, from crop and poultry producers and processors to agro dealers and government officials, in order to gather background on the rich agricultural land with great potential â€“ and many challenges. Limpopo province has high potential for agricultural production. This production is however, currently hampered by low use of productivity enhancing inputs including fertilizers, low inherent soil fertility and prevalence of nutrients- depleted soils. Smallholder farmers suffer hunger because they are unable to obtain appropriate fertilizers and most importantly because they are unaware of the correct fertilizers required to achieve higher yields from depleted soils. Fertilizers are the key to alleviating these constraints but need proper management for their economic potential to be realized.
Sandra Pires, Â Regional Business Development Manager
East and Southern Africa and Project Manager for The African Fertilizer Volunteers Program (AFVP)
African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) Tel: + 27 (0)11 844 7320